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The Legends of Genesis. 


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Kegan Paul, Trench, Triibner & Co., Ltd. 

The Legends of Genesis 



Professor of Old Testament Theology hi the University of Berlin 

Translated by 


Professor of German in the University of Kansas 



Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner <S^ Co., Ltd, 




The Open Court Publishing Co. 



The present volume is an authorized translation 
of the Introduction to Prof. Gunkel's large Com- 
mentary on Genesis, published during the present 
year by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, of Gottingen, 
under the title of Handcommentar zum Alten Testa- 
ment. Erste Abtheilung, erster Baiid; die Genesis 
iibersetzt und erkldrt von H. Gunkel. The general 
critical and histor-ical considerations offered to the 
public in a continuous and compendious form in 
this Introduction are elaborated and substantiated 
in the larger work with all the detail that belongs 
to exhaustive technical exposition; and the reader 
desirous of further confirmation of the views here 
presented is referred to the German original. 

The publishers are confident that the concise 
formulation of the very latest researches on Old 
Testament history here offered to the English- 
reading public will find a cordial and extensive 

The Open Court Publishing Co. 
Chicago, November, 1901. 



I. The Significance and Scope of the Legends . 1-12 

II. The Varieties of the Legends . . . 13-36 

III. The Literary Form of the Legends . . 37-87 

IV. History of the Development of the Legends in 

Oral Tradition 88-122 

V. Jahvist, Elohist, Jehovist, Later Collections . 123-144 

VI. Priestly Codex and Final Redaction . 145-160 

Index . . 161-164 

The Legends of Genesis 



ARE the narratives of Genesis history or legend? 
For the modern historian this is no longer 
an open question; nevertheless it is important to 
get a clear notion of the bases of this modern posi- 

The writing of history is not an innate endowment 
of the human mind; it arose in the course of human 
history and at a definite stage of development. 
Uncivilised races do not write history; they are 
incapable of reproducing their experiences objec- 
tively, and have no interest in leaving to posterity 
an authentic account of the events of their times. 
Experiences fade before they are fairly cold, and 
fact and fancy mingle; only in poetical form, in 
song and saga, are unlettered tribes able to report 
historical occurrences. Only at a certain stage of 
civilisation has objectivity so grown and the inter- 
est in transmitting national experiences to posterity 
so increased that the writing of history becomes 
possible. Such history has for its subjects great 


public events, the deeds of popular leaders and 
kings, and especially wars. Accordingly some sort 
of political organisation is an antecedent presump- 
tion to the writing of history. 

Only in a later, in the main a much later, time is 
the art of writing history, learned through the prac- 
tice of writing national histories, applied to other 
spheres of human life, whence we have memoirs 
and the histories of families. But considerable sec- 
tions of the people have never risen to the apprecia- 
tion of history proper, and have remained in the 
stage of the saga, or in what in modern times is 
analogous to saga. 

Thus we find among the civilised peoples of 
antiquity two distinct kinds of historical records 
side by side: history proper and popular tradition, 
the latter treating in naive poetical fashion partly 
the same subjects as the former, and partly the 
events of older, prehistoric times. And it is not to 
be forgotten that historical memories may be pre- 
served even in such traditions, although clothed in 
poetic garb. 

Even so did history originate in Israel. In the 
period from which the Book of Genesis is trans- 
mitted to us the art of history had been long estab- 
lished and highly developed according to ancient 
standards, having for themes, here as everywhere, the 
deeds of kings and especially wars. A monument 
of this history is found in the narratives of the 
Second Book of Samuel. 

But in a people with such a highly developed 
poetical faculty as Israel there must have been a 
place for saga too. The senseless confusion of 
"legend" with "lying" has caused good people to 


hesitate to concede that there are legends in the 
Old Testament. But legends are not lies; on the 
contrary, they are a particular form of poetry. Why 
should not the lofty spirit of Old Testament reli- 
gion, which employed so many varieties of poetry, 
indulge in this form also? For religion everywhere, 
the Israelite religion included, has especially cher- 
ished poetry and poetic narrative, since poetic nar- 
rative is much better qualified than prose to be the 
medium of religious thought. Genesis is a more 
intensely religious book than the Book of Kings. 

There is no denying that there are legends in the 
Old Testament; consider for instance the stories of 
Samson and of Jonah. Accordingly it is not a 
matter of belief or skepticism, but merely a matter 
of obtaining better knowledge, to examine whether 
the narratives of Genesis are history or legend. 

The objection is raised that Jesus and the Apostles 
clearly considered these accounts to be fact and not 
poetry. Suppose they did; the men of the New 
Testament are not presumed to have been excep- 
tional men in such matters, but shared the point of 
view of their time. Hence we are not warranted in 
looking to the New Testament for a solution of 
questions in the literary history of the Old Testa- 


Now, since legend and history are very different in 
both origin and nature, there are many criteria by 
which they may be distinguished. One of the chief 
points of difference is that legend is originally oral 
tradition, while history is usually found in written 
form; this is inherent in the nature of the two 


species, legend being the tradition of those who are 
not in the habit of writing, while history, which is a 
sort of scientific activity, presupposes practice in 
writing. At the same time the writing down of an 
historical tradition serves to fix it, whereas oral 
tradition cannot remain uncorrupted for any length 
of time and is therefore inadequate to be the vehicle 
of history. 

Now it is evident that Genesis contains the final 
sublimation into writing of a body of oral traditions. 
The tales of the patriarchs do not have the air of 
having been written down by the patriarchs them- 
selves; on the contrary many passages reveal clearly 
the great interval of time that lies between the 
period of the patriarchs and that of the narrators. 
We read frequently the expression "even to this 
day," as in Genesis xix. 38; the kings of Edom are 
enumerated down to the time of David, xxxvi. 31 
ff. ; the sentence "in those days the Canaanites 
dwelt in the land" must have been written at a time 
when this race had long since passed away. 

But the whole style of the narrative, as is to be 
shown hereafter, can be understood only on the sup- 
position of its having been oral tradition; this state 
of the case can be realised especially through the 
many variants, to be treated in the following pages. 
But if the contents of Genesis is oral tradition, it 
is, as the preceding considerations show, legend 


Another distinguishing feature of legend and his- 
tory is their different spheres of interest. History 
treats great public occurrences, while legend deals 


with things that interest the common people, with 
personal and private matters, and is fond of present- 
ing even political affairs and personages so that they 
will attract popular attention. History would be 
expected to tell how and for what reasons David 
succeeded in delivering Israel from the Philistines; 
legend prefers to tell how the boy David once slew 
a Philistine giant. 

How does the material of Genesis stand in the light 
of this distinction? With the exception of a single 
chapter (Chapter xiv), it contains no accounts of 
great political events, but treats rather the history 
of a family. We hear a quantity of details, which 
certainly have for the greater part no value for 
political history, whether they are attested or not: 
that Abraham was pious and magnanimous, and that 
he once put away his concubine to please his wife; 
that Jacob deceived his brother; that Rachel and 
Leah were jealous, — "unimportant anecdotes of 
country life, stories of springs, of watering-troughs, 
and such as are told in the bed-chamber," attractive 
enough to read, yet everything but historical occur- 
rences. Such minor incidents aroused no public 
interest when they took place; the historian does 
not report them, but popular tradition and legend 
delight in such details. 


In the case of every event that purports to be a 
credible historical memorandum, it must be possible 
to explain the connexion between the eye-witness 
of the event reported and the one who reports it. 
This, is quite different in the case of legend, which 
depends for its material partly upon tradition and 


partly upon imagination. We need only apply this 
test to the first narratives of Genesis in order to 
recognise their character straightway. No man was 
present at the creation of the universe; no human 
tradition extends back to the period of the origin of 
our race, of the first peoples and the primitive lan- 

In former times, before the deciphering of 
hieroglyphs and cuneiform writing, it was possible 
for Israelitic tradition to be regarded as so old that 
it did not seem absurd to look to it for such remi- 
niscences of prehistoric ages; but now when creation 
has widened so mightily in our view, when we see 
that the People of Israel is one of the youngest in 
the group to which it belongs, there is an end of all 
such conjectures. Between the origin of the primi- 
tive races of southwestern Asia and the appearance 
of the People of Israel upon the stage of life had 
rolled unnumbered millenniums; hence there is no 
room for serious discussion over historical traditions 
said to be possessed by Israel regarding those 
primitive times. 

The accounts of the patriarchs also give rise to 
the most serious doubts. According to the tradi- 
tion the period of the patriarchs is followed by the 
four hundred years during which Israel lived in 
Egypt. Nothing is reported from this latter period; 
historical recollection seems to have been utterly 
blotted out. And yet we have an abundance of 
unimportant details regarding the period of the 
patriarchs. How is it conceivable that a people 
should preserve a great quantity of the very minut- 
est details from the history of its primitive ancestors 
and at the same time forget its own national history 


for a long period following? It is not possible for 
oral tradition to preserve an authentic record of 
such details so vividly and for so long a time. And 
then, consider these narratives in detail. The ques- 
tion how the reporter could know of the things which 
he relates cannot be raised in most cases without 
exciting laughter. How does the reporter of the 
Deluge pretend to know the depth of the water? 
Are we to suppose that Noah took soundings? How 
is anyone supposed to know what God said or 
thought alone or in the councils of Heaven? (Cp. 
Genesis i. 2, 18, vi. 3-6 £f., xi. 6 ff.) 


The clearest criterion of legend is that it fre- 
quently reports things which are quite incredible. 
This poetry has another sort of probability from that 
which obtains in prosaic life, and ancient Israel con- 
sidered many things to be possible which to us seem 
impossible. Thus many things are reported in 
Genesis which go directly against our better knowl- 
edge: we know that there are too many species of 
animals for all to have been assembled in any ark; 
that Ararat is not the highest mountain on earth; 
that the "firmament of heaven," of which Genesis 
i. 6 ff. speaks, is not a reality, but an optical illu- 
sion; that the stars cannot have come into existence 
after plants, as Genesis ii. 10-14 reports; that the 
rivers of the earth do not come chiefly from four 
principal streams, as Genesis ii. thinks, that the 
Tigris and the Euphrates have not a common 
source, that the Dead Sea had been in existence 
long before human beings came to live in Palestine, 
instead of originating in historical times, and so on. 


Of the many etymologies in Genesis the majority 
are to be rejected according to the investigations of 
modern philology. The theory on which the 
legends of the patriarchs are based, that the nations 
of the earth originated from the expansion of a 
single family, in each case from a single ancestor, 
is quite infantile.' Any other conclusion is impos- 
sible from the point of view of our modern historical 
science, which is not a figment of imagination but 
is based upon the observation of facts. And how- 
ever cautious the modern historian maybe in declar- 
ing anything impossible, he may declare with all 
confidence that animals — serpents and she-asses, for 
instance — do not speak and never have spoken, that 
there is no tree whose fruit confers immortality or 
knowledge, that angels and men do not have carnal 
connexion, and that a world-conquering army can- 
not be defeated — as Genesis xiv. declares — with 
three hundred and eighteen men. 


The narratives of Genesis being mostly of a reli- 
gious nature are constantly speaking of God. Now 
the manner in which narratives speak of God is one 
of the surest means of determining whether they are 
historical or poetic. Here too the historian cannot 
avoid having a universal point of view. We believe 
that God works in the universe in the silent and 
secret background of all things; sometimes his 
influence seems almost tangible, as in the case of 
exceptionally great and impressive events and per- 
sonalities; we divine his control in the marvellous 

1 Compare my Commentary on Genesis, pp. 78 ff. 


interdependence of things; but nowhere does he 
appear as an operative factor beside others, but 
always as the last and ultimate cause of everything. 
Very different is the point of view of many of the 
narratives in Genesis. We find God walking about 
in the Garden of Eden; with his own hands he fash- 
ions man and closes the door of the ark; he even 
breathes his own breath into man's nostrils, and 
makes unsuccessful experiments with animals; he 
scents the sacrifice of Noah; he appears to Abraham 
and Lot in the guise of a wayfarer, or, as an angel, 
calls directly out of Heaven. Once, indeed, God 
appears to Abraham in his proper form, having the 
appearance of a burning torch and of a smoking bak- 
ing-pot (the Revised Version in English has here 
"furnace"). The speeches of God in Genesis are 
remarkable for the fact that his words are not heard 
in the obscure moments of intensest human excite- 
ment, in the state of ecstasy, as was the case with 
the prophets when they heard the voice of God, but 
that God speaks in all respects as does one man to 
another. We are able to comprehend this as the 
naive conception of the men of old, but we cannot 
regard belief in the literal truth of such accounts as 
an essential of religious conviction. 

And these arguments are immensely strengthened 
when we compare the narratives which on inner evi- 
dence we regard as poetry with the specimens which 
we know of strict Israelitish history. For these 
violations of probability and even of possibility are 
not found throughout the Old Testament, but only 
in certain definite portions possessing a uniform 
tone, whereas they are not to be found in other por- 
tions which for other reasons we regard as more 


strictly historical. Consider especially the central 
portion of the Second Book of Samuel, the history 
of the rebellion of Absalom, the most exquisite 
piece of early historical writing in Israel. The 
world that is there portrayed is the world that we 
know. In this world iron does not float and ser- 
pents do not speak; no god or angel appears like a 
person among other persons, but everything hap- 
pens as we are used to seeing things happen. In a 
word, the distinction between legend and history is 
not injected into the Old Testament, but is to be 
found by any attentive reader already present in the 
Old Testament. 

Moreover, it should not be forgotten that many 
of the legends of the Old Testament are not only 
similar to those of other nations, but are actually 
related to them by origin and nature. Now we can- 
not regard the story of the Deluge in Genesis as 
history and that of the Babylonians as legend; in 
fact, the account of the Deluge in Genesis is a 
younger version of the Babylonian legend. Neither 
can we reject all other cosmogonies as fiction and 
defend that of Genesis as history; on the contrary 
the account of Genesis i., greatly as it differs in its 
religious spirit from other cosmogonies, is by its 
literary method closely related to them. 


But the important point is and will remain the 
poetic tone of the narratives. History, which 
claims to inform us of what has actually happened, 
is in its very nature prose, while legend is by nature 
poetry, its aim being to please, to elevate, to inspire 
and to move. He who wishes to do justice to such 


narratives must have some aesthetic faculty, to 
catch in the telling of a story what it is and what it 
purports to be. And in doing so he is not express- 
ing a hostile or even skeptical judgment, but simply 
studying lovingly the nature of his material. Who- 
ever possesses heart and feeling must perceive, for 
instance in the case of the sacrifice of Isaac, that the 
important matter is not to establish certain historical 
facts, but to impart to the hearer the heartrending 
grief of the father who is commanded to sacrifice his 
child with his own hand, and then his boundless 
gratitude and joy when God's mercy releases him 
from this grievous trial. And every one who per- 
ceives the peculiar poetic charm of these old 
legends must feel irritated by the barbarian — for 
there are pious barbarians — who thinks he is putting 
the true value upon these narratives only when he 
treats them as prose and history. 

The conclusion, then, that one of these narratives 
is legend is by no means intended to detract from 
the value of the narrative; it only means that the 
one who pronounces it has perceived somewhat of 
the poetic beauty of the narrative and thinks that he 
has thus arrived at an understanding of the story. 
Only ignorance can regard such a conclusion as 
irreverent, for it is the judgment of reverence and 
love. These poetic narratives are the most beauti- 
ful possession which a people brings down through 
the course of its history, and the legends of Israel, 
especially those of Genesis, are perhaps the most 
beautiful and most profound ever known on earth. 

A child, indeed, unable to distinguish between 
reality and poetry, loses something when it is told 
that its dearest stories are "not true." But the 


modern theologian should be further developed. 
The evangelical churches and their chosen repre- 
sentatives would do well not to dispute the fact that 
Genesis contains legends— as has been done too 
frequently — but to recognise that the knowledge of 
this fact is the indispensable condition to an his- 
torical understanding of Genesis. This knowledge 
is already too widely diffused among those trained 
in historical study ever again to be suppressed. It 
will surely spread among the masses of our people, 
for the process is irresistible. Shall not we Evan- 
gelicals take care that it be presented to them in the 
right spirit? 



IN the great mass of our materials two groups are 
distinctly recognisable: 

1. The legends of the origin of the world and of 
the progenitors of the human race, the stories down 
to the tower of Babel, their locality being remote 
and their sphere of interest the whole world; 

2. The legends of the patriarchs of Israel: Abra- 
ham, Isaac and Jacob, and the latter' s sons, the 
locality and the sphere of interest being Canaan and 
adjacent lands. 

Even in their character the two groups are most 
plainly distinguished: the narratives of the first 
group speak of God in a way different from that of 
the legends of the patriarchs. In the latter the 
divinity appears always enveloped in mystery, 
unrecognised or speaking out of Heaven, or per- 
haps only in a dream. In the earlier legends, on 
the contrary, God walks intimately among men and 
no one marvels at it: in the legend of Paradise men 
dwell in God's house; it is assumed that he is in the 
habit of visiting them every evening; he even closes 
the ark for Noah, and appears to him in person, 
attracted by his sacrifice. Furthermore, in the 
legends of the patriarchs the real actors are always 
men; if the divinity appears, it is regarded as an 



exception. But in the primitive legends the divinity 
is the leading actor (as in the creation), or at least 
among those chiefly concerned (as in the story of 
Paradise, of the union of men and of angels, of the 
Deluge and the Tower of Babel). This distinction 
is, to be sure, only relative, for some of the legends 
of the patriarchs (notably those connected with 
Hebron and Penuel) represent the divinity as 
appearing in the same way. On the other hand, the 
story of Cain and Abel and that of the cursing of 
Canaan, in which human beings are the chief actors, 
are among the primitive legends. However, the 
distinction applies on the whole to the two groups. 
This prominence of the action of the divinity in the 
primitive legends indicates that these have a more 
decidedly "mythical" character: that they are faded 


"Myths" — let no one shrink from the word — are 
stories of the gods, in contradistinction to the 
legends in which the actors are men. Stories of the 
gods are in all nations the oldest narratives; the 
legend as a literary variety has its origin in myths. 
Accordingly, when we find that these primitive 
legends are akin to myths, we must infer that they 
have come down to us in comparatively ancient 
form. They come from a period of Israel's history 
when the childlike belief of the people had not yet 
fully arrived at the conception of a divinity whose 
operations are shrouded in mystery. On the other 
hand, these original myths have reached us in com- 
paratively faded colors. This we can perceive in 
the narratives themselves, where we are able in 


some points to reconstruct an older form of the 
story than the one transmitted to us: notably 
Genesis vi. 1-4 is nothing but a torso. 

We are led to similar conclusions when we com- 
pare the primitive legends with the allusions to the 
myths which we find in the poets and prophets of 
the Old Testament and the later apocalyptic writ- 
ers;' as, for instance, the myths of Jahveh's combat 
with Rahab or Leviathan, of the fall of Helal, and 
so on. The same result very clearly follows a com- 
parison of the primitive legends of Genesis with the 
myths of the Orient, especially of the biblical story 
of the creation and the Deluge with the Babylonian 
versions of the same subjects. The colossal out- 
lines, the peculiarly brilliant colors which character- 
ise these myths in the original form are lost in a 
measure in the biblical legends of the beginnings of 
things. The equivalence of the divine beings and 
the objects or realms of nature, the combat of the 
gods with one another, the birth of the gods, are 
some of the features which have disappeared in the 
version of Genesis. 


In all this we can see the essential character of 
the religion of Israel. The fundamental trait of the 
religion of Jahveh is unfavorable to myths. For 
this religion from its very beginning tends toward 
monotheism. But for a story of the gods at least 
two gods are essential. Therefore the Israel which 
we observe in the Old Testament could not tolerate 
genuine and unmodified myths, at least not in prose. 

' Compare the material gathered in my work Creation and 
Chaos, 1895. 


The poet was excused for occasional allusions to 
myths. Hence in poetry we find preserved traces 
of a point of view older than that of the tradition of 
Genesis, one frankly familiar with myths. But the 
primitive legends preserved to us are all dominated 
by this unspoken aversion to mythology. 

The monotheism of Israel tolerates only those 
myths that represent God as acting alone, as in the 
story of the creation, and even then there is no real 
"story," where action and counter-action give rise 
to a new situation or action. Or at the most, the 
story deals with action between God and men, 
where, however, men are too weak in the true 
Israelitish conception to be worthy rivals of God, to 
produce in their clash with God a real epic action; 
as soon as God intervenes all is decided. If in such 
a case a "story" is to be told, men must perform 
their part first. This is the method of the legends 
of Paradise and of the Tower of Babel. With the 
story of the Deluge it is different, God taking part 
from the beginning; but as a result of this the con- 
tinued interest of the hearer is not maintained. 
Furthermore, it should be noted that the legends 
preserved to us with mythical elements are much 
less numerous than the legends of the patriarchs in 
which this element is absent. This fact also may 
fairly be regarded as a result of the Israelitish aver- 
sion to mythology. 


It is not proposed to present here a theory of the 
origin and primitive significance of myths. Only a 
few observations may be permitted. A certain 
series of myths may be interpreted on the assump- 


tion that some natural phenomenon that is wont to 
occur frequently or regularly in the actual world 
has furnished the colors for the painting of one sim- 
ilar but gigantic phenomenon in primitive times. 
Thus the creation of the world is painted as Spring 
on a grand scale, and the overflows of the rivers of 
Mesopotamia gave rise to the story of the Deluge. 

Many myths attempt to answer questions, being 
intended to give instruction. This is the case with 
the primitive legends of Genesis: the story of crea- 
tion raises the question, Whence come heaven and 
earth? and at the same time. Why is the Sabbath 
sacred? The story of Paradise treats the question. 
Whence are man's reason and his mortality? and 
along with this. Whence are man's body and mind? 
Whence his language? Whence the love of the 
sexes? Whence does it come that woman brings forth 
with so much pain, that man must till the stubborn 
field, that the serpent goes upon its belly, and so 
on? The legend of Babel asks the question. Whence 
is the variety of nations in language and location? 
The answers to these questions constitute the real 
content of the respective legends. In the case of 
the legend of the Deluge this is different, but there 
is an aetiological, or explanatory feature at the 
close: Why is there never such a flood again? And 
what is the meaning of the rainbow? 

All these questions interest not Israel alone, but 
the whole world. We know that ancient Israel in 
general was not inclined to philosophic speculation, 
but that it always took most interest in immediate 
and Israelitish affairs. But here is a place in which 
the ancient race is able to treat universal human 
problems, the profoundest questions of mankind. 


This they have done in unique fashion in the stories 
of the creation and of Eden: these are the begin- 
nings of theology and of philosophy. It is no won- 
der that especial emphasis has been laid upon these 
features, and that every generation, since Genesis 
has been known, has read into it its own deepest 


The primitive legends are followed in Genesis by 
the legends of the patriarchs. The distinctive 
feature of these legends is that they tell of the pro- 
genitors of races, especially of Israel. At the foun- 
dation of these legends lies the theory that all 
races, Israel included, have come in each case from 
the family of a single ancestor, which gradually 
expanded. This theory is not supported by 
observed facts, for no human eye observes the origin 
of races; on the contrary, it is the remnant of a 
primitive poetic conception of tribal life. 

In earliest times the individual man counts for 
little. There is much more interest in the destinies 
of the race: the tribe, the nation, are regarded as 
real entities much more than at the present day. 
Thus it comes that the destinies of the race are 
regarded as being the destinies of a person: the race 
sighs, triumphs, is dejected, rebels, dies, comes to 
life again, etc. Thus too the relations of races are 
regarded as the relations of individuals: two races 
it is said, are brothers, i. e., are closely related and 
equal; if one of them is regarded as richer, stronger, 
or nobler, it is said to be the firstborn brother, 
or it comes of a better mother, while the other 
is younger, or comes of a concubine. Israel being 


divided into twelve tribes, we are told that the 
tribal ancestor of Israel had twelve sons. Some of 
these tribes having a closer union with one another, 
they are said to come from one mother. The rela- 
tion of mother and son exists between Hagar and 
Ishmael; the more distant relation of uncle and 
nephew between Abraham and Lot. 

Originally these persons were the tribes them- 
selves. This method of expression is still entirely 
current later in the pathetic poetry of the prophets: 
Edom builds his nest on high, Moab dies to the 
sound of trumpets, Asshur falls upon Israel like a 
lion upon his prey, Jerusalem and Samaria are two 
unchaste sisters, Edom has treated his brother 
Israel with enmity, etc. Such personifications must 
have been very familiar to the earliest ages. But 
as the world became more prosaic and these expres- 
sions were no longer understood in the simple nar- 
rative, the question was asked, who these persons, 
Jacob, Judah, Simeon, really were, and the answer 
given that they were the patriarchs and the later 
races and tribes their sons; an answer which seems 
to be a matter of course, since it was customary to 
refer to the individual Israelites and Ammonites as 
"Sons of Israel" and "Sons of Ammon." 


We are not putting a new meaning into the 
legends which treat of such race-individuals, when 
we regard their heroes, Ishmael, Jacob, Esau, and 
others, as tribes and try to interpret the stories 
about them as tribal events; we are simply getting 
at their meaning as it was understood in primitive 
times in Israel. 


On the other hand, we must go about this attempt 
with caution, for we must reckon with the possi- 
bility that some of these figures do not originally 
represent tribes, but only came to be regarded as 
patriarchs in a later time, and further, after the fig- 
ures of the patriarchs had once become established 
as the heroes of epic legends, that legends of other 
sorts and wanting the basis of tribal history became 
attached to these. We may certainly regard as 
personifications of tribes those figures whose names 
are known to us in other connexions as names of 
tribes; such are, notably: Ishmael, Ammon, Moab, 
the twelve tribes and their divisions. Sometimes it 
is perfectly evident from the narratives themselves 
that we have to do with tribes, as in the case of 
Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Ham and Japhet. 
Accordingly, many of the narratives treating such 
ancestors are originally the experiences of races or 

Once in ancient times, so we may assume, there 
were conflicts over wells between the citizens of 
Gerar and the neighboring Bedouins, ending in a 
compromise at Beersheba. The legend depicts these 
affairs as a war and a treaty between Abimelech, 
king of Gerar, and the patriarchs called in the 
legend Abraham or Isaac, (xxi, 22 ff., 26.) 

Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, is seduced by 
Shechem, and in punishment Shechem is treacher- 
ously assaulted by Dinah's brothers; Jacob, how- 
ever, abjures the brothers and curses them. The 
history at the bottom of this is probably as follows: 
Dinah, an Israelitish family, is overpowered by the 
Canaanitish city of Shechem and then treacherously 
avenged by Simeon and Levi, the most closely 


related tribes, but the other tribes of Israel renounce 
them and allow the two tribes to be destroyed. 

The legend of Tamar, also, depicts in part early 
relations in the tribe of Judah: Judah allied it- 
self with Canaanites, in the legend Hirah of Adul- 
1am and Judah' s wife, Bathshua; a number of 
Judsean-Canaanitish tribes (Er and Onan) perished 
early; finally two new tribes arose (Perez and 
Zerah). In the Esau-Jacob legend also there are 
quite evidently historical reminiscences: Esau and 
Jacob are brother tribes, Esau a tribe of hunters, 
Jacob a tribe of shepherds; Esau is the elder, but 
by sale or fraud he loses his birthright, that is, the 
older and better known tribe of Esau was compelled 
to give way to the later and originally weaker tribe 
of Jacob and has now the poorer land. 

A similar rivalry is assumed by the legend 
between the Judaean tribes of Perez and Zerah and 
between Ephraim and Manasseh. Reuben, the 
first-born among the Israelitish tribes, loses his 
birthright on account of sin: the tribe of Reuben, 
which was the leading tribe in the earliest times, 
afterwards forfeited this position. Cain, the hus- 
bandman, slew his brother Abel, the herdsman, but 
was compelled to leave the land which they had 
before occupied in common. Shem, Japhet, and 
Canaan are originally brothers; but Japhet has now 
a much more extensive territory than the others, 
and Canaan is the servant of both. 

We hear of many migrations. From the north 
Abraham migrates to Canaan, after him Rebeccah, 
to marry Isaac, and finally comes Jacob; the initial 
point of the migration is given as Ur-Kasdim and 
Haran the city of Nahor (xxiv. lo). In the legend 


of Joseph there is described a migration of Israel- 
itish tribes to Egypt; the account of the trip of 
Abraham to Egypt has a similar basis. 

Now it is in the nature of legend that we do not 
catch sight of these old occurrences clearly by its 
means, but only as through a mist. Legend has 
woven a poetic veil about the historical memories 
and hidden their outlines. In most cases the time 
of the event is not to be derived from the legend 
itself; often even the place is not to be distin- 
guished, and sometimes not even the personality of 
the actor. Who can tell what race it was that came 
to Canaan from Aram-Naharajim? Where the real 
home of Jacob and Esau was, of Cain and Abel, of 
Shem and Japhet, the legend has forgotten. What 
tribes parted at Bethel, in case there is any histor- 
ical basis to the legend of the separation of Lot and 
Abraham? And so, although the things of the past 
are hidden rather than revealed in these legends, 
he would be a barbarian who would despise them on 
this account, for often they are more valuable than 
would be prosaic reports of actual occurrences. 
For instance, if we had good historical data regard- 
ing Ishmael we should not value them highly, for 
this "wild ass" rendered little service to mankind; 
but as it is, touched by the hand of poetry, he is 

In these legends the clearest matter is the char- 
acter of races: here is Esau, the huntsman of the 
steppes, living with little reflexion from hand to 
mouth, forgetful, magnanimous, brave, and hairy as 
a goat; and there is Jacob the herdsman, a smooth 
man, more cunning and accustomed to look into the 
future. His uncle Laban is the type of the 


Aramaean, avaricious and deceitful, but to outward 
appearances an excellent and upright man, never at 
loss for an excuse. A more noble figure is 
Abraham, hospitable, peaceful, a model of piety. 

Moreover it is clear to us in many cases in what 
spirit the incidents are regarded: we perceive most 
easily how the legend despises the unchastity of 
Canaan, how it mocks at Esau and Laban, how it 
rejoices that Lot, with all his avarice, obtained 
after all the worse land, etc. 


These legends have not hitherto received full jus- 
tice, even when it has been recognised that they are 
legends. Even the most superficial reader can dis- 
tinguish for himself the chief original sources in 
Genesis from which the present redaction was con- 
structed, now commonly called the writings of the 
Elohist, of the Jahvist, and of the Priestly Code. 
Since the sources of the Elohist and the Jahvist 
were written down in the ninth or eight century B. 
C, some commentators have been disposed to think 
that the legends themselves originated in the main 
in the age of the Israelitish kingdom and furnished 
therefore no revelations of primitive history. But 
in reality these legends are much older. The 
tribal and race names which they preserve are 
almost all forgotten in other records: we know 
nothing of Shem, Ham, and Japhet, of Abel and 
Cain, of Esau and Jacob, nothing of Hagar and 
scarcely anything of Ishmael, from the historical 
records of Israel. Hence we must conclude that 
these races all belong to prehistoric times. This is 
particularly evident in the case of Jacob and Esau, 


who were, to be sure, identified later with Israel 
and Edom. But this very lapping of names, as 
well as many features of the legend which are not 
applicable to Israel and Edom, as, for instance, the 
treaties between the city of Gerar and the sons of 
Abraham (or Isaac) concerning the possession of 
certain wells, especially that of Beersheba, show us 
that the old narrative originally had in mind 
entirely different races; in the legend Jacob is not 
disposed to war; in history Israel conquered Edom 
in war; in the legend Esau is stupid, in history he 
is famous for his wisdom. 

Another proof of the age of these tribal legends 
may be found in the history of the legend in Israel. 
The legends in the Book of Judges have ceased to 
speak of tribes as persons (excepting Judges i.), but 
they tell of heroes, of individual leaders of the 
tribes. The latest story that preserves the old 
style and to which an historical date can be assigned 
is the legend of the capture of Shechem, the Dinah 
legend of Genesis. Sometime in the earlier por- 
tion of the period of Judges, then, this naive style 
of narrative disappeared so far as we can ascertain; 
from that time on such narratives are merely trans- 
mitted, but no longer constructed new. 


We call these legends "historical" when they 
reflect historical occurrences, "ethnographic" when 
they contain chiefly descriptions of race and tribal 
relations. Thus we characterise the legend of the 
treaty of Beersheba and the various legends of 
migrations as "historical," but those of Jacob and 
Esau as "ethnographic." 



Alongside these narratives of Genesis are also 
"aetiological" legends, that is, those that are writ- 
ten for a purpose, or to explain something. There 
is no end of the questions which interest a primi- 
tive people. The instinct for asking questions is 
innate in man: he wants to know of the origin of 
things. The child looks into the world with wide 
eyes and asks, Why? The answer which the child 
gives itself and with which it is for the time satis- 
fied, is perhaps very childish, and hence incorrect, 
and yet, if it is a bright child the answer is 
interesting and touching even for the grown man. 
In the same way a primitive people asks similar 
questions and answers them as best it can. 
These questions are usually the same that we our- 
selves are asking and trying to answer in our scien- 
tific researches. Hence what we find in these 
legends are the beginnings of human science; only 
humble beginnings, of course, and yet venerable to 
us because they are beginnings, and at the same 
time peculiarly attractive and touching, for in these 
answers ancient Israel has uttered its most intimate 
feelings, clothing them in a bright garb of poetry. 
Some of these questions are the following: 


There is a desire to know the reasons for the rela- 
tions of tribes. Why is Canaan the servant of his 
brethren? Why has Japhet such an extended terri- 
tory? Why do the children of Lot dwell in the 
inhospitable East? How does it come that Reuben 
has lost his birthright? Why must Cain wander 


about a restless fugitive? Why is sevenfold venge- 
ance proclaimed against the slayer of Cain? Why 
is Gilead the border between Israel and the Ara- 
maeans? Why does Beersheba belong to us and not 
to the people of Gerar? Why is Shechem in pos- 
session of Joseph? Why have we a right to the holy 
places at Shechem and Machpelah? Why has 
Ishmael become a Bedouin people with just this ter- 
ritory and this God? How does it come that the 
Egyptian peasants have to bear the heavy tax of the 
fifth, while the fields of the priests are exempt? 
And with especial frequency the question was asked, 
How does Israel come to have this glorious land of 

The legends tell in many variations how it came 
about that the patriarchs received this particular 
land: God gave it to Abraham because of his 
obedience; when on the occasion of the separation 
at Bethel Lot chose the East, the West fell to 
Abraham; Jacob obtained the blessing of the better 
country from Isaac by a deception; God promised 
it to Jacob at Bethel, and so on. 

Such ethnological legends, which tell a fictitious 
story in order to explain tribal relations, are of 
course very difficult to distinguish from historical 
legends which contain the remnant of a tradition of 
some actual event. Very commonly ethnological 
and ethnographic features are combined in the same 
legend: the relations underlying the story are his- 
torical, but the way in which they are explained is 

The usual nature of the answer given to these 
questions by our legends is that the present rela- 
tions are due to some transaction of the patriarchs: 


the tribal ancestor bought the holy place, and 
accordingly it belongs to us, his heirs; the ancestors 
of Israel and Aram established Gilead as their 
mutual boundary; Cain's ancestor was condemned 
to perpetual wandering by the word of God, and so 
on. A favorite way is to find the explanation in a 
miraculous utterance of God or some of the patri- 
archs, and the legend has to tell how this mirac- 
ulous utterance came to be made in olden times. 
And this sort of explanation was regarded as com- 
pletely satisfactory, so that there came to be later 
a distinct literary variety of "charm" or '"bless- 

Childish as these explanations now seem to us, 
and impossible as it was for the men of old to find 
out the true reasons of such things, yet we must not 
overlook the profundity of many of these poetic 
legends: they are all based on the assumption that 
the tribal and national relations of that day were 
not due to chance, but that they were all the results 
of events of the primitive world, that they were in a 
way "predestined." In these legends we have the 
first rudiments of a philosophy of history. 


Along with the above we find etymological 
legends or features of legends, as it were, begin- 
nings of the science of language. Ancient Israel 
spent much thought upon the origin and the real 
meaning of the names of races, mountains, wells, 
sanctuaries, and cities. To them names were not 
so unimportant as to us, for they were convinced 
that names were somehow closely related to the 

' Cp. Genesis xHx. 


things. It was quite impossible in many cases for 
the ancient people to give the correct explanation, 
for names were, with Israel as with other nations, 
among the most ancient possessions of the people, 
coming down from extinct races or from far away 
•stages of the national language. Many of our cur- 
rent names such as Rhine, Moselle, Neckar, Harz, 
Berlin, London, Thames, Seine, etc., are equally 
unintelligible to those not trained in philology. It 
is probable that the very fact of the oddity and 
unintelligibility of these names attracted the atten- 
tion of the ancient race. Early Israel as a matter 
of course explains such names without any scientific 
spirit and wholly on the basis of the language as it 
stood. It identifies the old name with a modern 
one which sounds more or less like it, and proceeds 
to tell a little story explaining why this particular 
word was uttered under these circumstances and was 
adopted as the name. We too have our popular 
etymologies. How many there are who believe 
that the noble river which runs down between New 
Hampshire and Vermont and across Massachusetts 
and Connecticut is so named because it "connects" 
the first two and "cuts" the latter two states! 
Manhattan Island, it is said, was named from the 
exclamation of a savage who was struck by the size 
of a Dutch hat worn by an early burgher, "Man hat 
on!" Many are the stories told to explain why a 
famous London highway is called "Rotten Row" 
{Route en rot) . 

The Lombards, we are told by another legend, 
were originally called Winili. But on an occasion 
the women of the tribe put on beards as a disguise, 
and Wodan looking out of his window in the morn- 


ing exclaimed, "What are those 'long beards' (Lang- 
obarden)?" (Grimm, German Legends, No. 390.) 

The famous Thuringian castle, the Wartburg, is 
said to have derived its name from the fact that the 
landgrave, having strayed thither during a hunt, 
exclaimed, "Wart, Berg, du sollst mir eine Burg 
werden" (Wait, mountain, thou shalt become my 

Similar legends are numerous in Genesis and in 
later works. The city of Babel is named from the 
fact that God there confused human tongues (palal, 
xi. 9); Jacob is interpreted as "heelholder" because 
at birth he held his brother, whom he robbed of the 
birthright, by the heel (xxv. 26); Zoar means 
"trifle," because Lot said appealingly, "It is only a 
trifle' (xix. 20, 22); Beersheba is "the well of 
seven," because Abraham there gave Abimelech 
seven lambs (xxi. 28 £f.) ; Isaac {Jishak) is said to 
have his name from the fact that his mother laughed 
[sahak) when his birth was foretold to her (xviii. 12), 
and so forth. 

In order to realise the utter naivete of most of 
these interpretations, consider that the Hebrew 
legend calmly explains the Babylonian name Babel 
from the Hebrew vocabulary, and that the writers 
are often satisfied with merely approximate similar- 
ities of sounds: for instance Cain (more exactly 
Kajin) from kaniti, "I have murdered" (iv. i), 
Reuben from rah beonji, "he hath regarded my 
misery" (xxix. 32), etc. Every student of Hebrew 
knows that these are not satisfactory etymologies. 
Investigators have not always fully perceived the 
naive character of this theory of etymology, but 
have allowed themselves to be misled into patching 


up some very unsatisfactory etymologies with mod- 
ern appliances. In one case many theologians even 
are wont to declare one of these explanations, a 
very ingenious one indeed (Jahveh = "I am that I 
am," Ex. iii. 14) as an established etymology. But 
etymologies are not acquired by revelation. The 
etymological legends are especially valuable to us 
because they are especially clear illustrations of the 
£Etiological variety of legend. 


More important than these etymological legends 
are those whose purpose is to explain the regula- 
tions of religious ceremonials. Such ceremonial 
regulations play a great part in the life of primitive 
races, but many of these customs had become in 
part or altogether unintelligible to the one who 
observed them in the earliest times of which we have 
authentic record. For customs are far more persis- 
tent than opinions, and religious customs are partic- 
ularly conservative. And even we, whose religious 
service has undergone a vigorous purging in the 
Reformation and again at the hands of rationalism, 
see and hear in our churches many things which we 
understand only in part or not at all. 

Ancient Israel reflected deeply upon the origin of 
these religious practices. And if the grown people 
became too blunted by custom to be able to per- 
ceive the strange and unintelligible features of the 
custom, they were roused from their indifference by 
the questions of the children. When the children 
see their father perform all sorts of curious customs 
during the Feast of the Passover, they will ask — 
thus it is expressly told, Ex. xii. 26; xiii. 14 — What 


does this mean? and then the story of the Passover 
is to be told them. A similar direction is given 
with relation to the twelve stones in the Jordan 
(Josh. iv. 6), which the father is to explain to the 
children as memorials of the passage of the Jordan. 
In these examples, then, we see clearly how such a 
legend is the answer to a question. Similarly, 
questions are asked with regard to the origin of 
circumcision, and of the Sabbath. Why do we not 
eat the muscle of the thigh? Why do they anoint 
the holy stone of Bethel and deliver the tithes 
there? Why do we not sacrifice a child at Jeruel as 
Jahveh commands, but in its stead a ram (Gen. 
xxii.)? Why do our people "limp," that is, per- 
form a certain dance, at the festival in Penuel 
(xxxii. 32)? 

No Israelite could have given the real reason for 
all these things, for they were too old. But to 
relieve this embarrassment myth and legend step 
in. They tell a story and explain the sacred cus- 
tom: long ago an event occurred from which this 
ceremony very naturally sprang, and we perform the 
ceremony representing the event in commemoration 
of it. But this story that explains the custom is 
always laid in primitive times. Thus the ancient 
race gives the entirely correct impression that the 
customs of their religious service originated in the 
immemorial past: the trees of Shechem and Hebron 
are older than Abraham! We perform the rite of 
circumcision in memory of Moses, whose firstborn 
was circumcised as a redemption for Moses whose 
blood God demanded (Ex. iv. 24 ff.). We rest on 
the seventh day because God at the creation of the 
world rested on the seventh day (a myth, because 


God himself is the actor in it). The muscle of the 
thigh is sacred to us because God struck Jacob on 
this muscle while wrestling with him at Penuel 
(xxxii. 33). The stone at Bethel was first anointed 
by Jacob because it was his pillow in the night 
when God appeared to him (xxviii. ii ff.). At 
Jeruel — this is the name of the scene of the sacrifice 
of Isaac, xxii. i-ig (cf. the Commentary., p. 2i8 ff.) 
— God at first demanded of Abraham his child, but 
afterward accepted a ram. We "limp" at Penuel 
in imitation of Jacob, who limped there when his 
hip was lamed in the wrestling with God (xxxii. 
32). And so on. 

In all this matter we are constantly hearing of 
certain definite places, such as Bethel, Penuel, 
Shechem, Beersheba, Lacha-roi, Jeruel, etc., and of 
the trees, wells, and stone monuments at these 
places. These are the primitive sanctuaries of the 
tribes and families of Israel. Primitive times felt 
that there was some immediate manifestation of the 
nature of the divinity in these monuments, but a 
later time, which no longer regarded the connexion 
as so clear and so self-evident, raised the question, 
Why is this particular place and this sacred 
memorial so especially sacred? The regular answer 
to this question was. Because in this place the divin- 
ity appeared to our ancestor. In commemoration of 
this theophany we worship God in this place. Now 
in the history of religion it is of great significance 
that the ceremonial legend comes from a time when 
religious feeling no longer perceived as self-evident 
the divinity of the locality and the natural monument 
and had forgotten the significance of the sacred 
ceremony. Accordingly the legend has to supply 


an explanation of how it came about that the God 
and the tribal ancestor met in this particular place. 

Abraham happened to be sitting under the tree in 
the noonday heat just as the men appeared to him, 
and for this reason the tree is sacred (*i«. i ff.). 
The well in the desert, Lacha-roi, became the sanc- 
tuary of Ishmael because his mother in her flight 
into the desert met at this well the God who com- 
forted her (xvi. 7 ff.). Jacob happened to be pass- 
ing the night in a certain place and resting his head 
upon a stone when he saw the heavenly ladder; 
therefore this stone is our sanctuary (xxviii. 10 ff). 
Moses chanced to come with his flocks to the holy 
mountain and the thornbush (Ex. iii. i ff.). Prob- 
ably every one of the greater sanctuaries of Israel 
had some similar legend of its origin. 

We can easily imagine that any such legend of a 
sanctuary was originally told on the occasion of the 
festival concerned and on the original spot, just as the 
Feast of the Passover and the legend of the exodus, 
the feast of Purim and the legend of Esther, the Baby- 
lonian Easter festival and the Babylonian hymn of 
the creation, belong together, and as with us Christ- 
mas and Easter are not to be thought of without 
their stories. These ceremonial legends are so 
valuable to us because we discover from them what 
were the sacred places and customs of Israel and at 
the same time they give us a very vivid realisation 
of ancient religious feeling: they are our chief 
sources of information regarding the oldest religion 
of Israel. Genesis is full of them, and but few are 
found in the later books. Almost everywhere in 
Genesis where a certain place is named, and at 
least wherever God appears at a definite place, it is 


based on such a legend. In these legends we have 
the beginning of the history of religion. 


Aside from the foregoing we may distinguish a 
number of other sorts of legends, of which at least 
the geological deserves mention. Such geological 
legends undertake to explain the origin of a 
locality. Whence comes the Dead Sea with its 
dreadful desert? The region was cursed by God on 
account of the terrible sin of its inhabitants. 
Whence comes the pillar of salt yonder with its 
resemblance to a woman? That is a woman, Lot's 
wife, turned into a pillar of salt in punishment for 
attempting to spy out the mystery of God (xix. 26). 
But whence does it come that the bit of territory 
about Zoar is an exception to the general desola- 
tion? Because Jahveh spared it as a refuge for Lot 
(xix. 17-22). 

All these aetiological legends, then, are remote 
from the standards of the modern sciences to which 
they correspond; we regard them with the emotion 
with which a man looks back upon his childhood. 
But even for our science they have a great value, for 
they furnish us in their descriptions or implications 
of definite conditions the most important material 
for the knowledge of the ancient world. 


Very frequently various types of legend are com- 
bined in one. The flight of Hagar (xvi.) is to be 
called ethnographic because it depicts the life of 
Ishmael; ethnologic, because it undertakes to 
explain these conditions; in one feature it is allied 


to the ceremonial legends, its explanation of the 
sacredness of Lacha-roi; furthermore it has etymo- 
logical elements in its interpetation of the names 
Lacha-roi and Ishmael. — The legend of Paradise 
treats all at once a number of questions. — The 
legend of Bethel explains at once the worship at 
Bethel and the name of the place. — The legends of 
Beersheba (xxi., xxii. ff., xxvi.) contain remnants 
of history, telling of a tribal treaty established 
there, and at the same time certain religious 
features, as the explanation of the sanctity of the 
place, and finally some etymological elements. — The 
legend of Penuel explains the sanctity of the place, 
the ceremony of limping, and the names Penuel and 
Israel. And so on. Etymological elements, it may 
be noted, never appear alone in Genesis, but always 
in connexion with other features. 


In many cases the origin of the legends will have 
been revealed with what has already been considered. 
Thus, in most etymological legends it can be shown 
quite clearly that those features in the legend which 
explain the name were invented for this very pur- 
pose. The incident of Abraham's giving Abimelech 
seven (sheba) lambs at Beersheba (xxi., 28 ff.) was 
surely invented to explain this name; also the laugh- 
ing (sahak) of Isaac's mother (xviii. 12-15), etc. 
The narrative of Judah, Er, Onan (xxxviii.) and the 
others is plainly nothing but a history of the Israel- 
ite families, just as the legend of Dinah (xxxiv.) is 
merely a reflexion of the attack upon Shechem. 
But, on the other hand, the investigator is to be 
warned not to be too quick to jump at the con- 


elusion that he always has the origin of the legend 
in this oldest interpretation attainable by us. On 
the contrary, we have to reckon with the possibility 
that the features of the story which are intelligible 
to us were injected into it later, and that the legend 
itself is older than any meaning we can see in it. 

Finally, there are legends which cannot be classi- 
fied under any of the heads given above. Of such 
are large portions of the legend of Joseph; also the 
chief feature of the story of Jacob and Laban; the 
deceits and tricks cannot be understood from the 
standpoint of either history or aetiology. 

The preceding classification of legends is based of 
course upon the chief or dominant features. Along 
with these go the purely ornamental or aesthetic 
features, twining about the others like vines over 
their trellises. The art of these legends is revealed 
especially in this portrayal of the subject matter 



THE beauty of the legends of Genesis has 
always been a source of delight to readers of 
refined taste and it is not mere chance that painters 
have been so fond of choosing the subjects of their 
works from Genesis. Scholars have more rarely 
expressed appreciation of the beauty of these nar- 
ratives, often perhaps for personal reasons, and per- 
haps often because the sesthetic point of view 
seemed to them incompatible with the dignity of 
science. However, we do not share this prejudice, 
but, on the contrary, are of the opinion that one who 
ignores the artistic form of these legends not only 
deprives himself of a great pleasure, but is unable 
properly to satisfy the scientific demands of the 
understanding of Genesis. Nay, more: it is no 
insignificant question for science to answer, in what 
the peculiar beauty of the legends consists, — a prob- 
lem whose solution requires a thorough investiga- 
tion of the contents and the religion of Genesis. 


The first question is, whether the form of the dic- 
tion is prose or poetry. Aside from Genesis xlix. 
which is a poem and not a narrative, and on that 



ground alone is out of place in Genesis, all that the 
book contains is prose in form. Detailed investi- 
gations of the nature of this prose have not been 
carried on. Meanwhile, at least this may be said, 
that this prose is not the common colloquial lan- 
guage of every-day life, but is more artistic in its 
composition and has some sort of rhythmical con- 
struction. Hebrew prosody is still a sealed book 
to us, but in reading Genesis aloud one feels an 
agreeable harmony of rhythmically balanced mem- 
bers. The translator of Genesis is constrained to 
imitate this balancing of sentences. 

Since the legends were already very old when 
they were written down, as will be shown here- 
after, it is a matter of course that the language of 
Genesis is somewhat archaic; this too must be 
reproduced in the translation. In certain passages, 
the climaxes of the stories, the language rises into 
poetry, as is the case with the German Mdrchen 
where the spells and charms are in poetic form. In 
the case of some of the legends we know variants 
both Biblical and extra-Biblical, notably of the 
stories of creation, of the Garden of Eden and of 
the Flood, which are in strictly metrical form. 
Inasmuch as these poetical variants are known to be 
older than the prose versions transmitted in 
Genesis, we are warranted in the conjecture that 
the poetic form of these legends is older than any 
prose form whatever. The older and strictly 
rhythmical form, \Vhich we must suppose to have 
been sung, would differ from the later prose form, 
which was recited, as does the ancient German epic 
from the later Volksbuch (book of popular legends), 
or as do the Arthurian poems of Christian of Troyes 


from the prose versions of Mallory's Morte d! Arthur 
or the Welsh Mabinogion. 


A second question is, whether these poetic ver- 
sions are popular traditions or the productions of 
individual poets. Modern investigators have 
answered the general principle of the question to 
the effect that Genesis is popular oral tradition 
written down. We are able to explain clearly how 
such popular traditions originate. Of course, in 
the ultimate beginning it was always an individual 
who improvised or devised this or that poem. But 
it is characteristic of such popular traditions that 
we are never able to observe them in the germ, any 
more than we can in the case of language, but that 
they appear, wherever we hear of them, as prim- 
itive possessions inherited from the patriarchs. 
Between the poet who first conceived them and the 
time when they were fixed for transmission to pos- 
terity a long period elapsed, and in this period the 
legends were repeated from generation to genera- 
tion and passed through many hands. Yet however 
faithfully such legends are transmitted, they are 
inevitably altered in the course of the centuries. 
And thus they finally become the common product 
of the people. This transformation of the legends 
was unconscious, at least in its earlier stages. Only 
in the more recent modifications is it reasonable to 
assume the operation of conscious art. 

Both narrators and auditors regarded the legends 
as "true" stories. That this is true of the legends 
of the Old Testament is shown in the historical 
books of the Bible, where the narrators proceed by 


almost imperceptible degrees from legends to genu- 
ine historical narratives. It follows also from the 
legends themselves, which go about in all serious- 
ness to account for actual conditions: because the 
woman was made from man's rib, therefore he longs 
for union with her; here we see that this story was 
no mere poetical figure to the one who told it, but 
an event that had actually happened. And further- 
more, it is to be expected from the nature of the 
case; legends come from ages and stages of civilisa- 
tion which have not yet acquired the intellectual 
power to distinguish between poetry and reality. 
It is therefore no slight error when modern investi- 
gators declare the legend of Paradise to be an 
allegory which was never intended to represent 
actual occurrences. 

Moreover, for the very reason that the legend is 
the product of the whole people, it is the expres- 
sion of the people's mind. And this is a point of 
greatest importance for our interpretation of the 
legends of Genesis. We are warranted in regard- 
ing the judgments and sentiments presented in Gen- 
esis as the common possession of large numbers of 


Accordingly, we should attempt in considering 
Genesis to realise first of all the form of its contents 
when they existed as oral tradition. This point of 
view has been ignored altogether too much hitherto, 
and investigators have instead treated the legendary 
books too much as "books." If we desire to under- 
stand the legends better we must recall to view the 
situations in which the legends were recited. We 


hear of such situations Ex. xii. 26 f., xiii. 14 f., 
Joshua iv. 6: when the children ask about the reason 
of the sacred ceremony then the father answers 
them by telling the story. Similarly we can imagine 
how the story of Sodom was told with the Dead Sea 
in view, and the legend of Bethel on the summit of 
Beth-el. But the common situation which we have 
to suppose is this: In the leisure of a winter even- 
ing the family sits about the hearth; the grown 
people, but more especially the children, listen 
intently to the beautiful old stories of the dawn of 
the world, which they have heard so often yet never 
tire of hearing repeated. 

Many of the legends, as will be shown later, have 
such a marked artistic style that they can scarcely 
be regarded in this form as products of the collec- 
tive people. On the contrary, we must assume that 
there was in Israel, as well as among the Arabs, a 
class of professional story-tellers. These popular 
story-tellers, familiar with old songs and legends, 
wandered about the country, and were probably to 
be found regularly at the popular festivals. 

We have already seen (page 38) that the trans- 
mitted prose narrative was perhaps preceded by a 
narrative in regular rhythmical form and intended 
for singing. In the case of these songs the circum- 
stances of their presentation may have been differ- 
ent. From the precedent of the Babylonian poem 
of the creation, which in its form is an Easter hymn 
in praise of Marduk, we may infer that the legends 
regarding forms of worship go back to hymns for 
the sanctuary which were perhaps sung by the priest 
at the sacred festivals and on the sacred ground (p. 
33). But however this may be, the legends regard- 


ing sanctuaries as we have them now had certainly 
ceased to be sung, and, as their peculiarly colorless 
attitude shows, were not connected with the sacred 
place in this form, but belong already to popular 


A new and fundamental question is: "What unit is 
really the constituent unit in Genesis, the one which 
we should first apply ourselves to? For there are a 
number of different units in Genesis. The most 
comprehensive unit is the whole Pentateuch, then 
Genesis, and then the single collections of legends 
that preceded it; then the individual legends of which 
the book was composed. Among these a distinc- 
tion has to be made between the independent indi- 
vidual legends, such, for example, as those of the 
flight of Hagar and the sacrifice of Isaac, and on the 
other hand certain groups of several legends con- 
stituting legend-cycles, such as the cycle which 
treats the destinies of Abraham and Lot down to 
the birth of their sons, or the one comprising 
Jacob's experiences with Esau and with Laban, or 
the one of which Joseph is the hero. All of these 
various units must be considered. But the first 
question is, Which of these units is most important 
for our purposes, that is, which of them was the 
original unit in oral tj-adition? 

This is a question that arises in many similar 
cases: Which is the elemental unit: the song-book, 
the individual group of songs in it, or the individual 
song? Is it the gospel, the address, or the indi- 
vidual utterance that is reported of Jesus? The 


whole apocalypse, the separate apocalyptic docu- 
mentary sources, or the individual vision? For the 
proper understanding of Genesis, also, it is of critical 
importance that this question be clearly met and 
correctly answered. Hitherto investigators have 
seemed to regard it as a matter of course that the 
original sources were the constituent units, though 
the true view has not been without witnesses.^ 

Popular legends in their very nature exist in the 
form of individual legends; not until later do com- 
pilers put several such legends together, or poets 
construct of them greater and artistic compositions. 
Thus it is also with the Hebrew popular legends. 
The legends of Genesis even in their present form 
give clear evidence of this. Every single legend 
that is preserved in an early form is a complete 
whole by itself; it begins with a distinct introduc- 
tion and ends with a very recognisable close. Com- 
pare certain specific cases: Abraham wishes to sue 
for a wife for his son; being too old himself he 
sends out his oldest servant — thus the story opens. 
Then we are told how the old servant finds the right 
maiden and brings her home. Meantime the aged 
master has died. The young master receives the 
bride, and "he was comforted for the death of his 
father." Everyone can see that the story ends here. 

Abraham is directed by God to sacrifice his son; 
this is the exposition (from xxii. on), which makes 
an entirely new start. Then we are told how Abra- 

iReuss, AT III., p. 73: "Originally the legends of the 
patriarchs arose individually without connexion and independ- 
ently of one another."— Wellhausen, Composition 2, p. 9: 
"Tradition in the popular mouth knows only individual 


ham was resolved upon the deed and very nearly 
accomplished it, but at the last moment the sacrifice 
was prevented by God himself: Isaac is preserved to 
Abraham. "Then they returned together to Beer- 
sheba." We see that the narrative always opens in 
such a way that one recognises that something new 
is about to begin; and it closes at the point where 
the complication that has arisen is happily resolved: 
no one can ask, What followed? 

Similarly, the unity of the separate legends is 
shown in the fact that they are in each case filled 
with a single harmonious sentiment. Thus, in the 
story of the sacrifice of Isaac, emotion is predomi- 
nant; in that of Jacob's deception of Isaac, humor; 
in the story of Sodom, moral earnestness; in the 
story of Babel, the fear of Almighty God. 

Many stories are entirely spoiled by following 
them up immediately with new ones which drive the 
reader suddenly from one mood to another. Every 
skilful story-teller, on the contrary, makes a pause 
after telling one such story, giving the imagination 
time to recover, allowing the hearer to reflect in 
quiet on what he has heard while the chords that 
have been struck are permitted to die away. Any 
one, for instance, who has followed the story of 
Isaac sympathetically, feels at the close the need of 
repose in which to recover from the emotion 
aroused. Those stories especially which aim to 
give a reason for some present condition (Cp. pp. 17, 
and 25-36) require a pause at the close so that 
the hearer may compare the prophecy and its pres- 
ent fulfilment; as evidence of this consider the close 
of the story of Eden, of the Flood, or of the drunk- 
enness of Noah. 


In later times there were formed of these indi- 
vidual legends greater units, called legend cycles, 
in which the separate legends are more or less 
artistically combined. But even here it is not at 
all difficult in most cases to extricate the original 
constituent elements from one another. Thus the 
legend cycle which treats Abraham and Lot sep- 
arates clearly into the following stories: (i) The 
migration of Abraham and Lot to Canaan; (2) their 
separation at Bethel; (3) the theophany at Hebron; 
(4) the destruction of Sodom; (5) the birth of 
Ammon and Moab; (6) the birth of Isaac. The 
legend cycle of Jacob-Esau-Laban divised clearly 
into the legends of Jacob and Esau, of Jacob and 
Laban, the legends of the origin of the twelve 
tribes, with various legends interspersed of the 
origin of ritual observances. In the stories con- 
nected with Joseph, also, those of Joseph's inter- 
course with his brothers are clearly distinguished 
from those of Potiphar's wife, of Pharaoh's dreams, 
and those of the agricultural conditions of Egypt 
(Gen. xlvii. 13-26). 

This leads to the practical conclusion for the exe- 
gete that each individual legend must be interpreted 
first of all from within. The more independent a 
story is, the more sure we may be that it is preserved 
in its original form. And the connexion between 
individual legends is of later origin in many cases, 
if it be not simply an hallucination of the exegete. 

As an example of a primitive legend which is 
almost wholly without antecedent assumptions, take 
the story of Hagar's flight. Gen. xvi., for which we 


need to know only that there is a man named Abra- 
ham with a wife named Sarah; everything else is 
told by the legend itself. An example of a later 
narrative is that of the suit for the hand of Rebeccah 
(chap, xxiv.) : this legend is based upon a whole 
series of individual elements which belong to other 
legends, as the kinship and migration of Abraham, 
the promise of Jahveh at the migration, the facts 
that Isaac was his only son and the son of his old age, 
and so forth. Hence it is the individual legend 
with which we shall have to deal first in this treatise. 


What are the limits of such a story? Many of 
the stories of Genesis extend over scarcely more 
than ten verses. This is the case with the stories 
of Noah's drunkenness, of the tower of Babel, of 
Abraham's journey to Egypt, of Hagar's flight or 
the exile of Ishmael, of the trial of Abraham, of 
Jacob at Bethel and at Penuel. After these very 
brief stories we can group a series of more detailed 
stories occupying about a chapter, such as the story 
of Paradise, of Cain's parricide, of the Flood, of 
the theophany at Hebron, of the betrothal of Rebec- 
cah, of the fraud perpetrated upon Isaac by Jacob. 
Finally the legend cycles exceed this limit of space. 

This matter of the compass of the legends consti- 
tutes a decided distinction between them and our 
modern productions. Even the most complex 
legend groups of Genesis, such as that of Joseph, 
are of very modest extent by modern standards, 
while the older legends are absolutely abrupt to 
modern taste. Now, of course, the brief compass 
of the old legends is at the same time an index of 


their character. They deal with very simple occur- 
rences which can be adequately described in a few 
words. And this compass accords also with the 
artistic ability of the narrator and the comprehen- 
sion of the hearer. The earliest story-tellers were 
not capable of constructing artistic works of any 
considerable extent; neither could they expect their 
hearers to follow them with undiminished interest 
for days and even weeks continuously. On the con- 
trary, primitive times were satisfied with quite brief 
productions which required not much over half an 
hour. Then when the narrative is finished the 
imagination of the hearer is satisfied and his atten- 
tion exhausted. 

On the other hand, our narratives show us that 
later times were no longer satisfied with the very 
brief stories of primitive construction; a more fully 
developed aesthetic faculty demands more scope for 
its expression. Thus greater compositions arose. 
This growth in the compass of legends was favored 
by the circumstance of their being written down; 
written productions are naturally more discursive 
than oral ones, because the eye in reading can more 
easily grasp larger conceptions than the ear in hear- 
ing. Accordingly, this too is a measure of the 
relative age of legends, though a measure which 
must be used with caution: the briefer a legend, the 
greater the probability that we have it in its orig- 
inal form. 


The brevity of the legends is, as we have seen, a 
mark of the poverty of primitive literary art; but at 


the same time this poverty has its peculiar advan- 
tages. The narrow limits within which the narrator 
moves compel him to concentrate his entire poetic 
power into the smallest compass; so that, while 
these creations are small, they are also condensed 
and effective. And the moderate grasp which 
these small works of art have to reckon upon in 
their hearers results also in making the narratives 
as clear and synoptic as possible. 

To make this last fact more evident, consider in 
the first place the balance of parts. Not only the 
longer of these narratives, but especially the brief- 
est also are outlined with extraordinary sharpness. 
Thus, the story of Noah's drunkenness is con- 
structed as follows: Exposition, Noah's drunken- 
ness. I. The occurrences: (i) Canaan's shameless- 
ness; (2) the filial respect of Shem and Japhet; II. 
The judgments: (i) concerning Canaan; (2) con- 
cerning Shem and Japhet. — Or take the story of the 
Garden of Eden, chap, iii.: I. The sin: (i) the 
serpent tempts Eve; (2) the woman and the man 
sin; (3) as consequence, the loss of their innocence; 
II. The examination; III. The punishments: (i) 
the curse upon the serpent, (2) upon the woman, 
(3) upon the man; IV. Conclusion: the expulsion 
from the garden. 

By means of such plain and beautiful analyses the 
narratives gain in clearness, that is, in the prerequi- 
site of all aesthetic charm: the whole is analysed 
into divisions and subdivisions which are themselves 
easily grasped and the relation of which to one 
another is perfectly plain. And these outlines are 
never painfully forced, but seem to have come quite 
as a matter of course from the nature of the subject. 


Consider, for instance, in the story of Eden, how 
perfectly the outline corresponds to the contents: 
in the fall the order is: Serpent, woman, man; the 
examination begins with the last result and reverses 
the process, the order here being: Man, woman, 
serpent; the punishment falls first upon the chief 
sinner, and accordingly the original order is here 
resumed: Serpent, woman, man. Hence the mod- 
ern reader is advised to heed the systematic arrange- 
ment of parts, since the analysis will at the same 
time give him the course of the action. 

Furthermore, the narrator of the legend, unlike 
the modern novelist, could not expect his hearers to 
be interested in many persons at once, but on the 
contrary, he always introduces to us a very small 
number. Of course the minimum is two, because it 
takes at least two to make a complication of inter- 
ests: such are the cases of the separation of Abra- 
ham and Lot, of Esau's sale of his birthright, and 
of the story of Penuel; there are three personages 
in the story of the creation of the woman (God, the 
man and the woman), in the story of Cain's fratri- 
cide (God, Cain and Abel), in the story of Lot in 
the cave, and of the sacrifice of Isaac; there are four 
in the story of Eden, of Abraham's journey into 
Egypt, of Hagar's flight, of the deception practised 
upon Isaac by Jacob. 

There are indeed narratives in which more person- 
ages take part, as in the case of the detailed story 
of the suit for the hand of Rebeccah, and especially 
in the stories of the twelve sons of Jacob. Yet even 
here the narrators have not been neglectful of clear- 
ness and distinctness. In very many cases where a 
number of persons appear, the many are treated as 


one: they think and wish the same things and act 
all alike: thus in the story of the Flood and of the 
tower of Babel all mankind are treated as one per- 
son, so also with the brothers Shem and Japhet, 
with the three men at Hebron and at Sodom 
(according to the original version of the story), 
Lot's son-in-law at Sodom, the courtiers of Pharaoh, 
the citizens of Shechem (Gen. xxxiv. 24), the 
brothers of Dinah (xxxiv. 25), the citizens of 
Temnah (xxxviii. 24), and in many other cases. 
This is in accord with the conditions of antiquity, 
in which the individual was much less sharply dis- 
tinguished from the mass of the people than in 
modern times. At the same time, however, this 
condensation of several persons into one is due to 
the inability of the narrator to catch and depict the 
actual distinctions among individuals. 

How limited in those days the capacity of even 
an artistically developed narrator to depict char- 
acter is shown in the conspicuous instance of the 
story of Joseph: the narrative presents Joseph and 
the eleven in conflict; among the others the story 
distinguishes Joseph's full brother, Benjamin, the 
youngest; of the remaining ten Reuben Qudah) is 
recognised separately. But this is the extent of the 
narrator's power to characterise; the remaining nine 
lack all individuality; they are simply "the 

Further simplicity is attained by means of the 
arrangement of parts, which, as we have noted, 
resolves the story into a number of little scenes. 
And in these scenes it is rare that all the persons of 
the story appear at once, but only a few, usually 
only two, are shown us at once. Compare the 


scenes of the story of the suit for Rebeccah; the 
first scene shows Abraham and his servant, the 
second shows the servant alone on the journey and 
at the well, the third the servant and the maiden, 
the fourth the maiden and her family, the fifth, and 
principal, scene shows the servant together with 
the maiden in her home, the sixth the servant 
returning home with the maiden, the last their 
arrival at the tent of Isaac. Or, another instance, 
the story of the exile of Ishmael (xxiv. 4 ff.) shows 
in succession: Sarah hearing the laughter of 
Ishmael, and persuading Abraham; Abraham 
expelling Hagar; then Hagar alone in the wilder- 
ness with the child, and finally her rescue by the 
angel. The story of Jacob's deception (xxvii.) 
treats first of Isaac and Esau, then of Rebeccah and 
Jacob, next of Jacob before Isaac, and of Esau 
before Isaac, of Esau's hatred of Jacob, and finally 
of Rebeccah' s advice to Jacob. 

The narrative takes especial pains to motivate this 
succession of scenes; and yet it does not hesitate to 
simply drop a personage on occasion, as in the case 
of the serpent after the temptation, or of Rebeccah 
after the death of Isaac. By means of this analysis 
the narrative gains great clearness; the hearer is not 
constrained to keep a confusing group of people in 
view, but he sees them in succession; thus he has 
time to inspect them at leisure and to familiarise 
himself with them. Only once, at the climax of 
the action, do all the persons appear together: thus 
in the story of Eden, in that of Noah's drunkenness, 
and in the story of Joseph at the close. But even 
here the narrators considered grouping necessary. 
They would not have been able to conduct a con- 


versation between a number of persons at once. 
Thus at the end of the story of Eden God does not 
reprove all the participants in one common address; 
but he turns first to the serpent, then to the woman, 
then to the man. And elsewhere also it is the 
nature of the style to divide up the conversation 
into so many dialogues. 


The survey of the various personages is further 
facilitated by a very distinct separation of leading 
and subordinate parts. The hearer does not have to 
ask many questions to learn which of the person- 
ages should receive his especial attention; the nar- 
rator makes this very plain to him simply by speaking 
most of the chief personage. Thus in most of the 
legends of the patriarchs the patriarchs themselves 
are as a matter of course the chief personages. In 
the following cases the personages of their respec- 
tive stories are arranged in the order in which they 
interest the narrator: Cain, Abel; Abraham, Sarah, 
Pharaoh (Genesis xii. 10-20); Abraham, Lot; 
Hagar, Sarah, Abraham (chap, xvi.) ; the servant 
and Rebeccah are the chief personages in chap. 
xxiv., the others being all of second rank; in chap, 
xxvii. the chief personages are Jacob and Esau, 
while the parents are secondary; in the story of 
Jacob and Laban these are the chief personages, the 
women secondary. In this classification sympathy 
and veneration are not to be confused with interest; 
the artistic interest of the narrator is greater in 
Cain than in Abel, in Hagar than in Sarah; in chap, 
xxiv, the servant is the chief personage while Abra- 
ham has only a subordinate part. — In many cases it 


is the destinies of a single leading personage that 
we pursue, noticeably in the case of the stories of 


In attempting to discover the method by which 
characters are depicted we are first struck by the 
brevity with which subordinate personages are 
treated. Modern literary creations have accus- 
tomed us to expect that every personage introduced 
be characterised if possible with at least a few 
touches as an Independent individual. The method of 
the primitive saga-man is entirely different. The 
personages whom he considers altogether or tem- 
porarily subordinate receive little or no characteri- 
sation. In view of the primitive feeling on the 
subject it is a matter of course that not much atten- 
tion was paid to slaves. The attendants of Esau 
(xxxii. ff.) or of Laban (xxxi. 23) are introduced 
merely to show their masters' importance, and have 
no further significance. The narrators did not even 
consider it necessary to mention the sin of the two 
chamberlains of Pharaoh (xli. i), or the feelings of 
Dinah (xxxiv.), or those of Sarah on the journey 
to Egypt (xii. 10 ff.). Hirah, the friend of Judah 
(xxxviii. I, 12, 20), is not characterised; the sin 
of Er (xxxvii. 7) is not specified; nothing is told of 
Shuah, the wife of Judah (xxxviii. 2-12), that is 
really characteristic; the same is true of Joseph's 
steward (xliii. 16), of Potiphar, and others. 

And even the characterisation of the chief person- 
ages is remarkably brief according to our notions. 
Only a few traits are ascribed to them, often but 
one. Cain is jealous of his brother, Canaan is 


shameless, Shem and Japhet respectful. In the 
story of the separation of Lot and Abraham, the 
former is greedy, the latter conciliatory. In the 
story of Hebron, Abraham is hospitable, and in the 
migration he is obedient to the will of God. In 
the story of Penuel, Jacob is strong and brave, in 
the affair with Esau he is crafty, in the story of 
Joseph he is fond of the children of Rachel. In 
the somewhat complex story of the Fall the serpent 
is crafty and evil, the man and the woman are 
guileless as children, the woman is fond of dainties 
and gullible , the man follows his wife. Even in 
the case of God each individual story as a rule 
speaks of but one single quality: in most of the 
legends he is the gracious helper, in others, as the 
stories of Paradise and Babel, he is the lofty sover- 
eign whose concern is to keep men within bounds. 
We are struck by this paucity in the legends, since 
we are familiar in modern compositions with por- 
traits made up of many separate traits and painted 
with artistic detail. The art of the primitive story- 
tellers is very different. True, it is based upon the 
actual conditions of primitive ages in one respect: 
the men of antiquity were in general more simple 
than the many-sided men of modern times. Yet it 
would be an error to suppose that men in those 
earlier days were as simple as they are represented 
to be in the legends; compare in evidence of this 
the character sketches of a somewhat maturer art in 
the Second Book of Samuel. With this example in 
mind we shall recognise also that there is some 
other ground for the brevity of the legends of 
Genesis than that abbreviation of the real which is 
inevitable in every artistic reproduction of life. 



It is, on the contrary, a peculiar popular concep- 
tion of man that we meet in Genesis. This concep- 
tion was unable to grasp and represent many sides 
of man, much less all; it could see but a little. But 
so much the more need had it to catch the essential 
traits of the individual, wherefore it constructed 
types. Thus in the story of the flight of Hagar, 
Hagar is the type of the slave (xvi.) who is too well 
treated, Sarah of the jealous wife, Abraham the type 
of the conciliatory husband. Rachel and Leah are 
types of the favorite and of the unloved wife; in the 
story of the migration of Abraham to Egypt, or the 
story of Joseph, Pharoah acts like the typical Orien- 
tal king in such cases; his courtiers are courtiers and 
nothing more; Abraham's servant, chap, xxiv., is an 
old and tried servant ; Isaac, in the story of the decep- 
tion, is a blind old man, and Rebeccah a cunning, 
partial mother; Abraham in his migration and in 
chap. xxii. is the type of the pious and obedient man. 
A number of figures are the types of the races which 
are said to be descended from them: the shameless 
Canaan, the generous but stupid Esau, the crafty 
Laban, the still more crafty Jacob (cp. p. 23). 

Doubtless it is another sign of the lack of creative 
grasp when the legends thus present to our eyes 
species instead of individuals; but the narrators 
have made a virtue of necessity. Within the lim- 
ited sphere assigned to them they give us extraor- 
dinary achievements. The types which they had 
the opportunity to observe they have depicted with 
a confidence and a clearness similar to those dis- 
played in the national types preserved to us by the 


Egyptian painters. And for this very reason many 
of the old legends still fascinate the modern reader, 
and even the unlearned reader; they often repro- 
duce universally human conditions and relations 
which are intelligible without interpretation unto 
this day. To the special student, however, they 
yield much greater pleasure, for to him they furnish 
the most intimate revelations regarding primitive 
conditions and sentiments. 

As a natural conclusion from this simplicity of 
the characters represented we recognise that the art 
of these popular legends was far from undertaking 
to show any development in the characters, such as 
improvement or degeneration. Not that primitive 
times ignored the possibilities of such changes; the 
denunciations of the prophets as well as historical 
evidence prove the contrary. But the art of the 
story-teller is far from equal to the task of depicting 
such an inward change. All that modern exegetes 
claim to have found in Genesis in this line is simply 
imported into the sources: Jacob's dishonest char- 
acter did not change at all; and Joseph's brethren 
are not at all reformed in the course of the story, 
but simply punished. 

While, therefore, the individual legends recognise 
in the main only one quality of the personages 
involved, the legend cycles are able to give more 
detailed descriptions, although after a peculiar man- 
ner. The characteristic instance is, of course, the 
portrayal of the figure of Joseph in the cycle of 
legends devoted to his history. Here each indi- 
vidual legend brings out one or two sides of his 
nature: one legend (xxxvii.) tells us that he was 
loved by his father and therefore hated by his 


brethren, and that he had dreams; another (xxxix.) 
tells us that everything throve under his hand, and 
that he was fair and chaste; a third (xl.) that he 
could interpret dreams; and a fourth (xli.) that he 
was crafty; and so on. Combining all these indi- 
vidual traits we get finally a complete portrait. 

Furthermore, the narrators are exceedingly grudg- 
ing in the outward description of their personages: 
they reveal nothing regarding hair, complexion, 
eyes or garb. In all this they seem to take the 
normal Hebrew type for granted. And wherever 
they deviate from this rule in their description it is 
done for specific reasons: Esua is red and hairy 
(xxv. '25) clearly because he is a type of the 
Edomite; Joseph wears his long garment with 
sleeves (xxxvii. 3) as a badge of the love of his 
father; Leah had "tender eyes" and Rachel is beau- 
tiful of form (xxix. 17) to explain why Jacob rejects 
Leah and loves Rachel. 

Now if we ask what principle the story-teller fol- 
lows when he does emphasise definite characteristics 
of his personages, we discover that the characterisa- 
tion is generally subordinated to the action. The 
particular quality of the person is emphasised that 
is necessary for the development of the action; all 
others are ignored. The story of the deception 
practised by Jacob tells how the latter, following 
his mother's counsel, induces his father to bless him 
instead of Esau: here Jacob is crafty, he practises 
deception; Esau is stupid, he lets himself be 
cheated; Isaac is easily deceived, is blind; Rebec- 
cah is cunning, she gives the deceitful advice and 
is partial to Jacob. This is further portrayed in a 
more detailed narrative: Jacob is a shepherd who 


dwells at home with his mother, Esau a hunter 
whose venison the father is fond of. The modern 
story-teller would add a quantity of further traits to 
give color and life to the figures, but the primitive 
story-teller rejected all such details. It is very 
easy to see what the aesthetic interest of the nar- 
rator was: he cared above all things for the action; 
the portrayal of figures was for him only a second- 
ary matter. 


What means do the narrators use for the rep- 
resentation of the character of their heroes? 
The modern artist is very apt to explain in 
extended descriptions the thoughts and feelings of 
his personages. When one turns from such a mod- 
ern story-teller to the study of Genesis, one is aston- 
ished to find in it so few utterances regarding the 
inner life of the heroes. Only rarely are the 
thoughts of even a leading personage expressly 
told, as in the case of the woman when she was 
looking desirously at the tree of knowledge, or of 
Noah, when he sent forth the birds "to see whether 
the waters were dried up off the earth," or the 
thoughts of Lot's sons-in-law, who judged that their 
father-in-law was jesting; the thoughts of Isaac, 
who feared at Gerar that he might be robbed of his 
wife (xxvi. 7) ; or the cunning thoughts with which 
Jacob proposed to evade the revenge of his brother 
Esau (xxxii. 9), and so on. But how brief 
and unsatisfactory even this appears compared 
with the psychological descriptions of modern 


And even such examples as these are not the rule 
in the legends of Genesis. On the contrary, the 
narrator is usually content with a very brief hint, 
such as, "He grew wroth" (iv. 5; xxx. 2; xxxi. 36; 
xxxiv. 7; xxxix. 19; xl. 2), or, "He was afraid" 
(xxvi. 7; xxviii. 17; xxxii. 8), "He was comforted" 
(xxiv. 16), "He loved her" (xxiv. 67; xxix. 18; 
xxx. 3; xxxvii. 3), "She became jealous" (xxx. i), 
"He was filled with fear" (xxvii. 33), "He eyed 
him with hatred" (xxvii. 41; xxxvii. 4), and else- 
where. But even these brief hints are far from fre- 
quent; on the contrary, we find very often not the 
slightest expression regarding the thoughts and 
feelings of the person concerned, and this in situa- 
tions where we cannot avoid a certain surprise at 
the absence of such expressions. The narrator tells 
us nothing of the reasons why God forbade man to 
partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, nor of 
the reasons of the serpent for wishing to seduce 
mankind. He says nothing of the feelings with 
which Abraham left his home, or Noah entered the 
ark. We do not learn that Noah was angry at 
Canaan's shamelessness, that Jacob was disap- 
pointed when Laban cheated him with Leah, that 
Hagar was glad when she received the promise that 
Ishmael should become a great nation; we are not 
even told that mothers rejoice when they hold their 
firstborn son in their arms. Particularly striking is 
the case of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac: what 
modern writer would fail under such circumstances 
to portray the spiritual state of Abraham when his 
religious devotion wins the hard victory over his 
parental love, and when his sadness is finally turned 
into rejoicing! 



Now what is the reason for this strange proceed- 
ing? We can find it in an instance like that of xix. 
27 £E. In sight of the city of Sodom Abraham had 
heard certain remarkable utterances from the three 
men; they had said that they were going down to 
Sodom to examine into the guilt of the city. This 
strange remark he let run in his head; in the morn- 
ing of the following day he arose and went to the 
same place to see whether anything had happened 
in Sodom during the night. And in fact, he sees in 
the valley below a smoke, whence he must infer 
that something has taken place; but this smoke 
hides the region, and he cannot make out what has 
happened. For the story-teller this little scene is 
plainly not of interest because of the thing that 
happens, but because of the thoughts which Abra- 
ham must have thought, and yet he does not tell us 
what these thoughts were. He merely reports to us 
the outward incidents, and we are obliged to supply 
the really important point ourselves. This story- 
teller, then, has an eye for the soul-life of his hero, 
but he cannot conceive these inward processes with 
sufficient clearness to express them in definite 

This is a typical instance for Genesis. In very 
many situations where the modern writer would 
expect a psychological analysis, the primitive story- 
teller simply presents an action. The spiritual 
state of the man and woman in Paradise and after 
the Fall is not analysed, but a single objective 
touch is given by which we may recognise it. The 
narrator says nothing of the thoughts of Adam when 


the woman handed him the forbidden fruit, but 
merely, that he ate it; he does not discourse to us 
on Abraham's hospitable disposition, but he tells us 
how he entertained the three men. He does not say 
that Shem and Japhet felt chastely and respectfully, 
but he has them act chastely and respectfully; not 
that Joseph had compassion upon his brethren, but 
that he turned away and wept (xlii. 24; xliii. 30); not 
that Hagar, when mistreated by Sarah, felt offended 
in the depths of her maternal pride, but that she ran 
away from her mistress (xvi. 6) ; not that Laban was 
dazzled by the gold of the stranger, but that he made 
haste to invite him (xxiv. 30) ; not that obedience 
to God triumphed in Abraham over parental love, 
but that he arose straightway (xxii. 3); not that 
Tamar remained faithful to her husband even be- 
yond the grave, but that she took measures to rear 
up children from his seed (xxxviii). 

From all this we see on what the story-teller laid 
the chief emphasis. He does not share the modern 
point of view that the most interesting and worthy 
theme for art is the soul-life of man; his childlike 
taste is fondest of the outward, objective facts. 
And in this line his achievements are excellent. 
He has an extraordinary faculty for selecting just 
the action which is most characteristic for the state 
of feeling of his hero. How could filial piety be 
better represented than in the story of Shem and 
Japhet? Or mother-love better than by the behavior 
of Hagar? She gave her son to drink — we are not 
told that she herself drank. How could hospitality 
be better depicted than in the actions of Abraham 
at Hebron? And there is nothing less than genius 
in the simple manner in which the innocence and 


the consciousness of the first men is illustrated by 
their nakedness and their clothing. 

These simple artists had not learned how to 
reflect; but they were masters of observation. It is 
chiefly this admirable art of indirectly depicting 
men through their actions which makes the legends 
so vivid. Little as these primitive men could talk 
about their soul-life, we gain the impression that 
they are letting us look into the very hearts of their 
heroes. These figures live before our eyes, and 
hence the modern reader, charmed by the luminous 
clearness of these old legends, is quite willing to 
forget their defects. 


But even when the story-teller said nothing of the 
soul-life of his heroes, his hearer did not entirely 
fail to catch an impression of it. We must recall 
at this point that we are dealing with orally recited 
stories. Between narrator and hearer there is 
another link than that of words; the tone of the 
voice talks, the expression of the face or the ges- 
tures of the narrator. Joy and grief, love, anger, 
jealousy, hatred, emotion, and all the other moods 
of his heroes, shared by the narrator, were thus 
imparted to his hearers without the utterance of a 

Modern exegesis is called to the task of reading 
between the lines the spiritual life which the nar- 
rator did not expressly utter. This is not always 
such a simple matter. We have in some cases got- 
ten out of touch with the emotions of older times 
and the expressions for them. Why, for instance, 
did Rebeccah veil herself when she caught sight of 


Isaac? (xxiv. 25.) Why did the daughters of Lot go 
in unto him? Why did Tamar desire offspring of 
Judah? (xxxvii.) What is the connexion of the 
awakening modesty of the first men and their sin? 
In such cases exegesis has often gone far astray by 
taking modern motives and points of view for 

A further medium of expression for the spiritual 
life of the personages is articulate speech. Words 
are not, it is true, so vivid as actions, but to make 
up for this they can the better reveal the inner life 
of the personages. The early story-tellers were 
masters in the art of finding words that suit the 
mood of the speakers: thus the malice of the cun- 
ning serpent is expressed in words, as well as the 
guilelessness of the childlike woman, Sarah's jeal- 
ousy of her slave as well as the conciliatoriness of 
Abraham (xvi. 6), the righteous wrath of Abimelech 
(xx. 9), the caution of the shrewd Jacob (xxxii. 9), 
and the bitter lament of Esau (xxvii. 36) and of 
Laban (xxxi. 43) when deceived by Jacob. Notable 
masterpieces of the portrayal of character in words 
are the temptation of the first couple and the con- 
versation between Abraham and Isaac on the way to 
the mount of sacrifice. 


But even in this connexion we find many things 
to surprise us. First of all, that the personages of 
Genesis often fail to speak where the modern writer 
would surely have them do so, and where the very 
nature of the case seems to require it. We may 
well imagine that Joseph complained aloud when 


he was cast into the pit and carried away to Egypt 
(cp. also xlii. 21), that the murder of Abel was pre- 
ceded by a dispute, that Hagar left Abraham's 
house weeping and complaining that Abraham had 
put her away (xxi. 14); but there is nothing of the 
kind. The first couple do not utter a word of reply 
when God pronounces his curse upon their future: 
they do not even indulge in self-accusations; not a 
word does Rebeccah say in chapter xxvi., nor Noah 
during the Deluge, nor Abraham in chapter xviii, 
when a son is promised him or when he is com- 
manded to sacrifice Isaac; neither does Hagar when 
she sees her child dying, nor later when God heard 
the weeping of Ishmael. One who examined these 
references might easily conclude that the person- 
ages of Genesis were intended to be portrayed as 
taciturn and even secretive; he would find the only 
talkative individual to be — God. 

But if we go more deeply into these legends, we 
perceive that this extraordinary laconism is part of 
the style of the narrator. The narrators subordinated 
everything to the action. They introduced only 
such speeches as really advanced the action. 
Hence especially they avoided giving utterance to 
the feelings of the merely passive personages. 
Whether Joseph complains or keeps silence, when 
his brethren sell him, makes no difference with his 
destiny. What words were spoken by Abraham and 
Noah when they received the commands of God 
makes no difference; suffice it, they obeyed. The 
destiny of the first family is fixed when God has 
cursed them; no self-reproaches will help the mat- 
ter. Or, what do we care about the dispute that 
preceded the murder of Abel, since we know the 


reason which prompted Cain's deed! And it appears 
perfectly natural that men should make no reply to 
the promises of God, as is usually the case; for 
what can man add when God has spoken? 

The other side of this strangely laconic method is 
that the remarks which the narrator does introduce 
are an essential part of the narrative. The conver- 
sation between the serpent and the woman is to 
show how it came about that the forbidden fruit was 
eaten. Cain pours forth his guilt-laden heart before 
God, and as a result modifies his sentence. Abra- 
ham begs his wife to declare herself his sister; and 
thus it comes about that she was taken into the 
harem of Pharaoh (xii. ii ff.). Abraham gave Lot 
the choice of going to the east or to the west; hence 
Lot chose the plain of the Jordan. At Sarah's 
request Abraham takes Hagar as concubine and at 
her request he gives her up again. In these cases 
the words are not idle; on the contrary they are 
necessary to suggest an inner motive for the action 
to follow. Especially necessary are the words of 
cursing and of promise; they are the very climax of 
the story, up to which all the rest leads. This 
explains why God is so often represented as speak- 
ing in Genesis; for speech is really the chief 
medium through which God influences the action in 
these legends. 

In some places the narrators have introduced mon- 
ologues, the most unconcrete of all forms of speech, 
when the situation showed that there was no one pres- 
ent to whom the person could have spoken. This 
is quite commonly the case with God; for to whom 
should God reveal his most hidden decrees? But in 
a few cases we can infer (i. 26; ii. 6 f.) an elder 


form of the account, in which God addressed him- 
self to his celestial associates. 

But even in the laconic legends there are 
speeches which, while they are not exactly neces- 
sary, either characterise a person or attempt to give 
the opinion of the narrator, or which aim at some 
other point which the narrator wants to make. 
Many of the speeches in Genesis are exceedingly 
brief. Recall the lament of Hagar: "I am fleeing 
before the face of my mistress" (xvi. 8), or the words 
of the daughters of Lot (xix. 31), of Sarah (xxi. 
10), of Abraham (xxi. 24), "I will swear," of 
Rebeccah (xxiv. 18 ff.), of Jacob (xxv. 33), "Swear 
to me this day," of Isaac (xxvi. 7), "She is my 
sister," of the shepherds of Gerar (xxvi. 20), "The 
water is ours," of Isaac's slaves (xxvi. 32), "We 
have found water," of Laban (xxix. 14), "Yea, 
thou art my flesh and blood," and so on. Of 
course, the speeches are not always so brief; they 
are especially apt to grow longer in the solemn and 
impressive formulae of cursing and blessing. But 
in general we may see in brevity a characteristic 
mark of a certain type in Genesis. 

Even such utterances do not always reveal the 
ultimate purpose of the actors, and reveal their spirit- 
ual life only in an indirect way. Hence the expres- 
sions are not always entirely clear for us, and 
require an especial gift for their interpretation. We 
are told that God forbade to man the fruit of the 
tree of life, but his reason for this is not given. 
What thought was in God's mind when threatening 
man with immediate death, whereas this result did 
not actually follow? So, too, we learn that the ser- 
pent desires to betray the woman, but not his 


reason. And even such psychological masterpieces 
as the story of the temptation are only indirect 
portrayals of soul-life. 


Very many of the legends are no less laconic in 
their descriptions of incidental circumstances. In 
this respect also there is a great difference between 
the primitive literary art and that of modern story- 
tellers. Of course, the ancients have no touch of 
the intimate feeling for the landscape; there is no 
trace of nature-love in Genesis. The facts that the 
story of Eden is set among green trees, the story 
of Hagar in the barren desolation of the wilder- 
ness, the story of Joseph in the land of the Nile, 
affect the course of the story in certain respects, 
indeed, since the first pair clothe themselves with 
leaves and since the desert is a place where one can 
get lost, and where there is no water. But these 
facts in no wise affect the mood or sentiment of the 


But aside from this intimate feeling for the life 
of nature, which was foreign to the primitive man, 
how easy it would have been to give a description 
of Paradise! What modern poet would have missed 
the opportunity! But the early story-tellers were 
content to say that there were beautiful trees there, 
and the source of mighty rivers. It is a piece of 
the same method that the narrator does not tell us 
with what weapon Cain slew Abel; he tells us 
merely that Noah planted vines and then that he 


drank of the wine, omitting the intervening steps 
of picking and pressing the grapes; he no more tells 
us how the contempt of Hagar was expressed (xvi. 
4) than how Sarah took her revenge. We are wont 
to admire the circumstantiality of the narratives, 
and justly, but this by no means implies that the 
legends abound in striking and highly concrete 
touches; on the contrary, they present on the whole 
not an abundance, but a paucity, of concrete ele- 
ments. But the little that we have is so judiciously 
selected that we are warranted in seeking for a pur- 
pose in almost every minute feature. 

This economy of circumstantial details is the 
more striking because alongside such lightly 
sketched features, and especially in the more 
detailed narratives, there are often very minute 
descriptions. Thus, for instance, the meal that 
Abraham serves to the three men is described in 
detail, while the meal of Lot is but briefly 
sketched. For the purpose of exegesis it is very 
suggestive to keep this question constantly in mind, 
to observe the brief and detailed treatments, and to 
consider everywhere the interest of the narrator. 
In general this will warrant the conclusion that the 
narrator portrays the principal events concretely, 
while merely hinting at or omitting those which 
are incidental to the action: thus, for instance, in 
the story of the sacrifice of Isaac the three days' 
journey is covered at a bound, while the short pas- 
sage to the place of sacrifice is described in all 
detail. The narrator is quite arbitrary in the mat- 
ter. Similarly the experiences of Abraham's servant 
on the day when he sued for the hand of Rebeccah 
are reported very minutely, while all the days con- 


sumed in the journey to the city of Nahor are dis- 
posed of in a breath. 

This emphasis laid upon the action is seen also in 
the manner of the conclusion of the narrative. The 
legends stop promptly when they have attained the 
desired object, not with a gradual cadence, but with 
a sudden jolt. This observation also is important 
for exegesis. The point just before the close is 
recognised as the climax by the narrator. Yet 
there are here two varieties of conclusion: the cus- 
tomary sort follows the climax with a short sentence 
(the type is the sacrifice of Isaac) ; the less common, 
and plainly more impressive, closes with a pathetic 
address (the curse of Noah is here the type). 


From the above observations we conclude that 
in the primitive legends everything is subordinated 
to the action. In other literatures there are nar- 
ratives in which the action is merely a garb or a 
thread, while the chief concern is the psychologic 
study, the brilliant conversation, or the idea; but 
not so with the primitive Hebrew legend. The 
primitive man demanded from his story-teller first 
of all action; he demands that something shall hap- 
pen in the story to please his eye. But the first 
essential in such a story is to him its inner unity; 
the narrator must furnish him a connected series of 
events each necessarily dependent on the preceding. 

One of the chief charms of the early legend is just 
this: to show how one thing resulted from another. 
The more plausible and necessary this connexion 
appears, the more attractive seems the whole story. 
A famine forces Abraham to go to Egypt; but he is 


afraid of being killed there on account of his beau- 
tiful wife. Therefore he reports his wife to be his 
sister. Deceived by this Pharaoh takes Sarah and 
makes presents to Abraham. Therefore God pun- 
ishes Pharaoh. In consequence of this Pharaoh 
releases Sarah but permits Abraham to retain the 
presents. — Sarah has no children, but desires them. 
Therefore she gives her maid to Abraham as con- 
cubine. Thus Hagar conceives by Abraham. 
Hence Hagar despises her mistress. This offends 
the proud Sarah most deeply. Therefore she causes 
Abraham to restore Hagar to her, and mistreats her. 
As a result Hagar flees into the desert. Here God 
has compassion on her and promises her a son. 

Observe how in such cases each successive mem- 
ber is linked to the preceding one; how each pre- 
ceding member appears as the natural cause or at 
least the antecedent of the succeeding one. We are 
in the habit, following a sort of tradition, of calling 
this kind of narrative childish; but in so doing we 
are only partially right. 

These narratives, then, are exceedingly tense in 
their connexion. The narrators do not like digres- 
sions, but press with all their energy toward the 
mark. Hence they avoid, if possible, the introduc- 
tion of new features in a given story, but seek an 
uninterrupted connexion. Rarely indeed are new 
assumptions introduced, but good style demands the 
announcement of all assumptions as near the begin- 
ning as possible. In pursuit of this method it is 
considered permissible to skip over the necessary 
consequences of what has been told, provided only 
that those features stand forth which are essential to 
the continuation of the action. There must be 


nothing too much, and nothing too little. The nar- 
rator does not spring aside; but the hearer also 
must not be allowed to spring aside: the narrator 
holds fast to him so that he can think only what the 
narrator wants to have him think. 


Many of the legends are fond of varying a given 
motive. Consider how the story of Eden makes 
ever5d;hing dependent on the nakedness and the 
clothing of man, and how the relation of "field" 
and "field-tiller" (this is the etymology of the 
Hebrew word here used for "man") pervades this 
whole legend; how the story of Joseph's sale into 
Egypt treats the coat-sleeve (coat of many colors) 
and the dreams; how the story of Jacob's last testa- 
ment (xlvii. 29 ff.) constantly connects his actions 
with his bed: in praying he bows at the head of the 
bed, xlvii. 31; in blessing he rises up in bed, 
xlviii. 2; in dying he stretches himself out upon his 
bed, xlix. 33 (English version: "gathered up his 
feet in his bed"), and so on. In this the rule is, 
quite in opposition to our sense of style, to repeat 
the expression every time the thing is referred to, 
so that one and the same word often runs through 
the story like a red thread. Undoubtedly this cus- 
tom originated in the poverty of the language; but 
the narrators of our legends follow it in order to 
produce an impression of unity and simplicity. 

Precisely because of this inward connexion in the 
story it is possible in many places where our 
received text shows gaps or distortions to recognise 
the original form of the legend: the text-criticism 
is in this point very much more positive than in the 


case of the prophets, the laws and the songs, which 
lacked this connected condensation. 


Furthermore, the course of the action must be 
probable, highly credible, even unavoidable. 
Nowhere must the hearer be able to make the objec- 
tion that what is being told is inconsistent with 
what has preceded or with itself. Hagar, when 
elevated to too high station, could not fail to grow 
haughty; and Sarah could not help feeling offended. 
True, the probability aimed at by these old story- 
tellers was different from that of which we speak. 
Their understanding of nature was different from 
ours; for instance, they regarded it as entirely 
credible that all the kinds of animals could get into 
the ark; furthermore, the way in which they speak 
of God and his participation in the affairs of the 
world was nai'ver than is possible for us of modern 
times; they regarded it as quite plausible that the 
serpent should have spoken in primitive times; that 
Joseph, the grand vizier, should look after the sale 
of the corn in person. 

Hence it would be quite unwarranted to speak of 
the "arbitrariness" and "childish recklessness" of 
the legends simply because the assumptions of the 
narrators are impossible to us in modern times. 
Only in a very few places can the eye of the modern 
reader, even though trained for criticism, detect 
improbabilities. In this line we may ask why 
Joseph, who was so much attached to his father, 
failed to communicate with him all the long years. 
Even after Hagar and her son were once rescued, 
were not the dangers of the desert sure to recur 


every day? But the auditor of ancient times 
doubtless did not ask such questions; he was more 
willing to surrender to the narrator, and was more 
easily charmed; he was also more credulous than we 
are; compare for instance, xliii. 23. 


On the other hand, in a well-told legend the inci- 
dents are not so simple that one can guess the whole 
course of events from the first few words; if it were 
so, the legend would lose its interest. No one 
cares to hear of things that are self-evident. On 
the contrary, our story-tellers are dealing with what 
they regard as a complicated situation, whose final 
outcome cannot be surveyed in advance by the 
hearer. This leads him to listen the more intently. 
Jacob wrestles with a supernatural being; which of 
the two will conquer? Jacob and Laban are equally 
gifted in cunning; which will succeed in deceiving 
the other? The shrewd but unwarlike Jacob has to 
meet the dull but physically superior Esau; how 
will he manage him? Abraham has to go down 
into Egypt, and how will he fare there? Thus all 
these stories are more or less exciting. The child- 
like listener holds his breath, and rejoices when the 
hero finally escapes all the threatening dangers. 

The narrators are very fond of contrasts: the 
child cast out into the desert becomes a mighty 
people; a poor slave, languishing in prison, 
becomes the ruler of Egypt with all her abundance. 
They try if possible to focus these contrasts into a 
single point: at the moment when Hagar is in utter 
despair, God takes compassion on her; the very 
instant when Abraham raises his arm to slay Isaac, 


he is checked by God. Lot lingers, and Jacob holds 
the divinity fast until the dawn is at hand: the next 
moment will surely bring the decision. 

And where this intense interest is wholly lacking, 
where there is no complication of interests, there 
we have no real legend. Thus the account of crea- 
tion in Genesis i. is scarcely to be called a story; 
and yet, from v. 2 and 26, as well as from the poetic 
versions referred to on pp. 10-12 and 25-26, we can 
conjecture a form of the account in which more per- 
sonages appear and in which the world is created 
after a conflict of God with Chaos. In like manner, 
the accounts of Abraham's migration and of his 
league with Abimelech are not real legends, but 
only legendary traditions which have originated 
probably from the decay of earlier and fuller 


As we have seen in the second division of this 
treatise, the legends are not free inventions of the 
imagination. On the contrary, a legend adopts and 
works over certain data which come from reflexion, 
tradition or observation. These fundamental data 
have been treated in the preceding pages; our pres- 
ent task is to consider the part taken by the imagin- 
ation in the development of the legends. With this 
subject we have reached the very heart of our 

As has been shown above, many of the legends 
seem intended to answer definite questions. That 
is, these legends are not the thoughtless play of an 
imagination acting without other purpose than the 
search for the beautiful, but they have a specific 


purpose, a point, which is to instruct. Accord- 
ingly, if these narratives are to attain their object 
they must make this point very clear. They do this 
in a decided way, so decidedly that even we late- 
born moderns can see the point clearly, and can 
infer from it the question answered. The sympa- 
thetic reader who has followed the unhappy-happy 
Hagar on her way through the desert will find no 
word in the whole story more touching that the one 
which puts an end to all her distress: God hears. 
But this word contains at the same time the point 
aimed at, for upon this the narrator wished to build 
the interpretation of the name Ishmael ("God 
hears"). — Or what word in the legend of the sacri- 
fice of Isaac stamps itself so deeply upon the 
memory as the affecting word with which Abraham 
from the depths of his breaking heart quiets the 
questioning of his unsuspecting child: God will pro- 
vide! This word, which made God himself a 
reality, is so emphasised because it answers the 
question after the etymology of the place (Jeruel). 

Other legends reflect historic events or situations, 
and in such cases it was the duty of the narrator to 
bring out these references clearly enough to satisfy 
his well-informed hearer. Thus in the legend of 
the flight of Hagar the actors are at first mere indi- 
viduals whose destinies are interesting enough, to 
be sure, but at the climax, with the words of God 
regarding Ishmael the narrator shows that in 
Ishmael he is treating of a race and its destinies. 

Hebrew taste is especially fond of playing about 
the names of leading heroes and places, even when 
no etymology is involved Many of the legends 
are quite filled with such references to names. Thus 


the legend of the Deluge plays with the name of 
Noah (cp. viii. 4, 9, 21), the story of the sacrifice of 
Isaac with Jeruel (xxii. 8, 12, 13), the story of the 
meeting of Jacob and Esau with Mahanaim and 
Penuel (cp. p. 321 in my Commentary), and so on. 

Thus these legends are rich in points and allu- 
sions; they are so to speak transparent: even the one 
who reads them naively and simply as beautiful 
stories finds pleasure in them, but only the one who 
holds them up against the light of the primitive 
understanding can catch all their beautiful colors; 
to him they appear as small but flashing and bril- 
liant works of art. The characteristic feature of the 
Hebrew popular legends as contrasted with other 
legends, if we understand the matter, consists in the 
flashing of these points. 

The art of the story-tellers consists in avoiding 
every suspicion of deliberate purpose at the same 
time that they give great prominence to their point. 
With marvellous elegance, with fascinating grace, 
they manage to reach the goal they have set. They 
tell a little story so charmingly and with such 
fidelity to nature that we listen to them all unsus- 
pecting; and all at once, before we expect it, they 
are at their goal. For instance, the story of Hagar's 
flight (xvi.) wishes to explain how Ishmael, although 
the child of our Abraham, was born in the wilder- 
ness; to this end it draws a picture of Abraham's 
household: it shows how, by an entirely credible 
series of events, Ishmael' s mother while with child 
was brought to desperation and fled into the wilder- 
ness; thence it came that Ishmael is a child of the 

In many cases the task of the narrator was very 


complex: he had to answer a whole series of differ- 
ent questions, or to assimilate a quantity of antece- 
dent presumptions. Thus, one variant of the legend 
of Babel asks the origin of the difference of lan- 
guages and of the city of Babel, the other wants to 
know the source of the distribution of races and 
also of a certain ancient structure. Or again, the 
story of Abraham at Hebron undertakes to tell not 
only the origin of the worship at Hebron, but also 
to explain the birth of Isaac and the choice of his 
name. Here then the task was, to unite the differ- 
ing elements into unity. And it is just here that 
the story-tellers show their art. The prime motive 
furnishes the leading thread of the story; the subor- 
dinate motives they spin into a single scene which 
they introduce into the body of the story with easy 


The etymologies usually constitute such subordi- 
nate motives. Thus in the story of the worship at 
Jeruel a scene is interjected which is to explain the 
name of the place, "God sees"; but this little 
scene, the dialogue between Abraham and Isaac, 
xxii. 7 f., expresses so completely the tone and 
sentiment of the whole story that we should not be 
willing to dispense with it even if it had no partic- 
ular point of its own. In other cases the artists 
have joined together two leading motives; then 
they invented a very simple and plausible transi- 
tion from one to the other: thus the first part of the 
legend of Hebron presents the establishment of 
worship there under the guise of the story that 


Abraham entertained the three divine visitors there; 
the second portion, which is to account for the birth 
of Isaac, simply proceeds with the given situation, 
having the three guests enter into a conversation at 
table and therein promise Isaac to Abraham. It is 
the most charming portion of the task of the inter- 
preter of Genesis to search for these matters, and 
not only, so far as this is possible, to discover what 
is for us the oldest meaning of the legends, but also 
to observe the refinements of artistic composition 
in the stories. 


We have to do, then, even in the oldest legends 
of Genesis, not with aimless, rude stories, tossed off 
without reflexion, but on the contrary, there is 
revealed in them a mature, perfected, and very 
forcible art. The narratives have a very decided 

Finally, attention should be called to the fact that 
the narrators scarcely ever express a distinct opin- 
ion about persons or facts. This constitutes a clear 
distinction between them and the later legends and 
histories worked over under the influence of the 
prophets. Of course, the narrators of the early 
legends had their opinions; they are by no means 
objective, but rather intensely subjective; and often 
the real comprehension of the legend lies in our 
obtaining an impression of this opinion of the nar- 
rator. But they almost never gave expression to 
this opinion: they were not able to reflect clearly 
on psychological processes. Wherever we do get 
a more distinct view of such an opinion it is by 


mean^ of the speeches of the actors which throw 
some light on what has happened; consider partic- 
ularly the utterances of Abraham and Abimelech, 
chapter xx., or the final scene of the story of Laban 
and Jacob, xxxi. 26 ff. At the same time this sup- 
pression of opinions shows most clearly that the 
narrators, especially the earlier ones, did not care 
to proclaim general truths. 

It is true, there are at the basis of many of the 
legends and more or less distinctly recognisable, 
certain general truths, as, in the case of the story 
of the migration of Abraham, a thought of the value 
of faith, and in the story of Hebron, the thought of 
the reward of hospitality. But we must not imag- 
ine that these narratives aimed primarily at these 
truths; they do not aim to teach moral truths. 
With myths, as has been shown on pages 15-17, this 
is different, for they aim to answer questions of a 
general nature. 


Out of the type of legend which has been 
sketched in essentials in the preceding pages 
there was evolved, as we may discover even in 
Genesis itself, another type relatively much nearer 
to modern fiction. While the story of Hagar's 
flight is a classic instance of the former sort, the 
most conspicuous example of the second is the story 
of Joseph. It is necessary only to compare the two 
narratives in order to see the great differences in 
the two kinds: there, everything characteristically 
brief and condensed, here, just as characteristically, 
everything long spun out. 


The first striking difference is the extent of the 
stories. Since the earlier form was in vogue we see 
that men have learned to construct more consider- 
able works of art and are fond of doing so. The 
second is, that people are no longer satisfied to tell 
a single legend by itself, but have the gift of com- 
bining several legends into a whole. Thus it is in 
the story of Joseph, so also in the Jacob-Esau-Laban 
story and in the legends of Abraham and Lot. 

Let us inquire how these combinations came 
about. In the first place, related legends attracted 
one another. For instance, it was to be expected 
that legends treating the same individual would 
constitute themselves into a small epic, as in the 
stories of Joseph and of Jacob; or the similar, and 
yet characteristically different, legends of Abraham 
at Hebron and Lot at Sodom have become united. 
Similarly in J, a story of the creation and a story of 
Paradise are interwoven; both of them treat the 
beginnings of the race. In P the primitive legends 
of the creation and of the deluge originally consti- 
tuted a connected whole. In many cases that we 
can observe the nature of the union is identical: the 
more important legend is split in two and the less 
important one put into the gapk We call this 
device in composition, which is very common in 
the history of literature — instance The Arabian 
Nights., the Decameron., Gil Bias, and Hauff's Tales — 
"enframed stories." Thus, the story of Esau and 
Jacob is the frame for the story of Jacob and Laban; 
the experiences of Joseph in Egypt are fitted into 
the story of Joseph and his brethren; similarly 
the story of Abraham at Hebron is united with that 
of Lot at Sodom. 


In order to judge of the artistic quality of these 
compositions we must first of all examine the joints 
or edges of the elder stories. Usually the nar- 
rators make the transition by means of very simple 
devices from one of the stories to the other. The 
transition par excellence is the journey. When the 
first portion of the Jacob-Esau legend is finished 
Jacob sets out for Aram; there he has his experi- 
ences with Laban, and then returns to Esau. In 
the story of Joseph the carrying off of Joseph to 
Egypt, and later the journey of his brethren thither, 
are the connecting links of the separate stories. 
Similarly in the story of Abraham and Lot, we are 
first told that the three men visited Abraham and 
went afterwards to Sodom. 

Now we must examine how these various journeys 
are motivated. The sale of Joseph into Egypt is 
the goal at which everything that precedes has 
aimed. The journey of his brethren to' Egypt is 
prompted by the same great famine which had 
already been the decisive factor in bringing Joseph 
to honor in Egypt. And the experiences of the 
brethren in Egypt are based upon Joseph's 
advancement. Thus we see that the story of Joseph 
is very cunningly blended into a whole. 

There is less of unity in the story of Jacob; but 
even here there is a plausible motive why Jacob 
goes to Laban: he is fleeing from Esau. In other 
respects we find here the original legends side by 
side unblended. On the contrary, in the story of 
Abraham and Lot no reason is alleged why the three 
men go directly from Abraham to Sodom; that is to 


say, there is here no attempt at an inner harmonis- 
ing of the different legends, but the narrator has 
exerted himself all the more to devise artificial links 
of connexion; this is why he tells that Abraham 
accompanied the men to the gates of Sodom, and 
even returned to the same place on the following 
morning. In this we receive most clearly the 
impression of conscious art, which is trying to make 
from originally disconnected elements a more plau- 
sible unity. In the Joseph legend we have an 
instance of a much more intimate blending of parts 
than the "frames" of these other stories, a whole 
series of different adventures harmonised and inter- 


Another characteristic feature of the Joseph story 
is its discursiveness, which stands in notable con- 
trast with the brevity of the older narratives. We 
find in it an abundance of long speeches, of solilo- 
quies, of detailed descriptions of situations, of 
expositions of the thoughts of the personages. The 
narrator is fond of repeating in the form of a speech 
what he has already told. What are we to think of 
this "epic discursiveness"? Not as an especial char- 
acteristic of this particular narrative alone, for we 
find the same qualities, though less pronounced, in 
the stories of the wooing of Rebeccah, of Abraham 
at the court of Abimelech (Genesis xx.), in some 
features of the story of Jacob (notably the meeting 
of Jacob and Esau) ; and the stories of the sacrifice 
of Isaac and various features of the story of Abra- 
ham and Lot also furnish parallels. 

Very evidently we have to do here with a distinct 


art of story-telling, the development of a new taste. 
This new art is not satisfied, like its predecessor, 
with telling the legend in the briefest possible way 
and with suppressing so far as possible all incidental 
details; but it aims to make the legend richer and to 
develop its beauties even when they are quite inci- 
dental. It endeavors to keep situations that are 
felt to be attractive and interesting before the eye 
of the hearers as long as possible. Thus, for 
instance, the distress of Joseph's brethren as they 
stand before their brother is portrayed at length; 
there is evident intent to delay the narrative, so that 
the hearer may have time to get the full flavor of 
the charm of the situation. Thus Joseph is not per- 
mitted to discover himself at the very first meeting, 
in order that this scene may be repeated; he is made 
to demand that Benjamin be brought before him, 
because the aged Jacob hesitates a long time to obey 
this demand, and thus the action is retarded. Sim- 
ilarly in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, the nar- 
rative is spun out just before the appearance of God 
upon the scene, in order to postpone the catastrophe 
and intensify the interest. 

The means that is applied over and over again to 
prolong the account is to report the same scene 
twice, though of course with variations. Joseph 
interprets dreams for Egyptian officials twice; 
Joseph's brethren must meet him in Egypt twice; 
twice he hides valuables in their grain sacks in 
order to embarrass them (xlii. 25 ff., xliv. 2 ff.); 
twice they bargain over Joseph's cup with the 
steward and with Joseph himself (xliii. 13 ff., 25 ff.), 
and so on. Sometimes, though surely less frequently, 
it is possible that the narrators have invented new 


scenes on the basis of the earlier motives, as with 
the last scene between Joseph and his brethren, 
chapter 1. 

Quite unique is the intercalated episode, the 
negotiations of Abraham with God regarding 
Sodom, which may almost be called a didactic com- 
position. It is written to treat a religious problem 
which agitated the time of the author, and which 
occurred to him in connexion with the story of 
Sodom. These narrators have a quite remarkable 
fondness for long speeches, so great as to lead them 
to subordinate the action to the speeches. The 
most marked instance is the meeting of Abraham 
with Abimelech, chapter xx. Here, quite in oppo- 
sition to the regular rule of ancient style, the events 
are not told in the order in which they occurred, but 
a series of occurrences are suppressed at the begin- 
ning in order to bring them in later in the succeed- 
ing speeches. Thus the narrator has attempted to 
make the speeches more interesting even at the 
expense of the incidents to be narrated. 

It is also a favorite device to put substance into 
the speeches by having what has already been 
reported repeated by one of the personages of the 
story (xliii. 13, 21, 30 £f. ; xliii. 3, 7, 20 f. ; xliv. 19 
ff). The rule of style in such repetition of speech 
is, contrary to the method of Homer, to vary them 
somewhat the second time. This preference for 
longer speeches is, as we clearly perceive, a second- 
ary phenomenon in Hebrew style, the mark of a 
later period. We observe this in the fact that the 
very pieces which we recognise from other consider- 
ations as the latest developments of the legend 
or as intercalations (xiii. 14-17; xvi. 9 f. ; xviii. 


17-19, 23-33) ^rs th^ ones which contain these 

We may find this delight in discursiveness in 
other species of Hebrew literature also. The brief, 
condensed style of Amos is followed by the dis- 
cursive style of a Jeremiah, and the same relation 
exists between the laconic sentences of the Book of 
the Covenant and the long-winded expositions of 
Deuteronomy, between the brief apothegms which 
constitute the heart of the Book of Proverbs and the 
extended speeches which were afterwards added by 
way of introduction, between the oldest folk-songs, 
which often contain but a single line each, and the 
long poems of art poetry. 


We do not always agree with this taste of the later 
time; for instance, the story of Joseph approaches 
the danger-line of becoming uninteresting from 
excessive detail. On the other hand, this discur- 
siveness is at the same time the evidence of a newly 
acquired faculty. While the earlier time can 
express its inner life only in brief and broken 
words, the new generation has learned to observe 
itself more closely and to express itself more com- 
pletely. With this there has come an increase of 
interest in the soul-life of the individual. Psycho- 
logical problems are now treated with fondness and 
with skill. Thus in the story of the sacrifice of 
Isaac there was created the perfection of the char- 
acter study. 

The narrator of the stories of Joseph shows himself 
a master of the art of painting the portrait of a man 
by means of many small touches. Especially sue- 


cessful is the description of Joseph's inner vacilla- 
tion at the sight of Benjamin (xliii. 30), and the 
soul painting when Jacob hears that Joseph is still 
alive (xlv. 26), and elsewhere. But while in these 
later narratives the incidental features of the old 
legend are still developed with greater detail, on 
the other hand this very fact has naturally thrown 
the chief features somewhat into the background 
and made the original point of the whole less 
obvious. This result has been further favored by 
the circumstance that the original points had in 
many cases ceased to be altogether clear to those 
of the later time. Thus in the story of Joseph the 
historical and aetiological elements have lost impor- 

The difference between the two styles is so great 
that it seems advisable to distinguish them by 
different names, and to limit the use of "legend" to 
the first while we call the second "romance." Of 
course, the transition between the two is fluctuant; 
we may call such transition forms as the story of 
Laban and Jacob, or that of Rebeccah, "legends 
touched with romance," or "romances based on 
legendary themes." 

On the relative age of these styles, also, an opin- 
ion may be ventured, though with great caution. 
The art of narrative which was acquired in the writ- 
ing of legends was applied later to the writing of 
history, where, accordingly, we may make parallel 
observations. Now we see that the oldest historical 
writing known to us has already adopted the 
"detailed" style. Accordingly we may assume that 
this "detailed" style was cultivated at least as early 
as the beginning of the time of the kings. And 


therefore the condensed style must have been culti- 
vated for many centuries before that time. How- 
ever, it should be observed, this fixes only the 
time of the styles of narrative, and not the age of 
the narratives preserved to us in these styles. 





AT the time when they were written down the 
legends were already very old and had already 
a long history behind them. This is in the very 
nature of legend: the origin of legends always 
eludes the eye of the investigator, going back into 
prehistoric times. And so it is in the present case. 
The great age of the legends is seen, for example, 
in the fact that they often speak of vanished tribes, 
such as Abel and Cain, Shem, Ham and Japhet, 
Jacob and Esau, none of which are known to his- 
torical times, and further, by the primitive vigor of 
many touches that reveal to us the religion and the 
morality of the earliest times, as for instance, the 
many mythological traces, such as the story of the 
marriages with angels, of Jacob's wrestling with 
God, and the many stories of deceit and fraud on 
the part of the patriarchs, and so on. 


A portion of these legends, perhaps very many, 
did not originate in Israel, but were carried into 
Israel from foreign countries. This too is part of 
the nature of these stories, this wandering from tribe 
to tribe, from land to land, and also from religion 



to religion. Thus for instance many of our German 
legends and Mdrchen came to us from foreign lands. 
And even to this day there is perhaps nothing which 
modern civilised peoples exchange so easily and so 
extensively as their stories, as may be seen, for 
instance, in the enormous circulation of foreign 
novels in Germany. 

Now if we recall that Israel lived upon a soil 
enriched by the civilisation of thousands of years, 
that it lived by no means in a state of isolation but 
was surrounded on all sides by races with superior 
culture, and if we consider further the international 
trade and intercourse of the early ages, which went 
from Babylonia to Egypt and from Arabia to the 
Mediterranean by way of Palestine, we are war- 
ranted in assuming that this position of Israel 
among the nations will be reflected in its legends as 
well as in its language, which must be literally full 
of borrowed words. 

Investigators hitherto, especially Wellhausen and 
his school, have erred frequently in assuming that 
the history of Israel could be interpreted almost 
exclusively from within, and in ignoring altogether 
too much the lines which connect Israel with the 
rest of the world. Let us trust that the investi- 
gators of the future will be more disposed than has 
hitherto been the case to give the history of Israel 
its place in the history of the world! Of course, 
with our slender knowledge of the primitive Orient 
we are in large measure thrown back upon conjec- 
tures. Yet this cannot justify us in ignoring alto- 
gether the surroundings in which Israel lived, and 
there are after all certain things which we may 
declare with tolerable certainty. 



Babylonian influence is evident more than any- 
other in the primitive legends. We can demon- 
strate this in the case of the legend of the Deluge, 
of which we possess the Babylonian version; and 
we have strong reasons for accepting it in the case 
of the story of creation, which agrees with the 
Babylonian story in the characteristic point of the 
division of the primeval sea into two portions; also 
in the legend of Nimrod, and in the traditions of 
the patriarchs, the ten patriarchs of the race as given 
by P being ultimately the same as the ten primitive 
kings of the Babylonians. The legend of the 
Tower of Babel, too, deals with Babylonia and must 
have its origin in that region. The Eranian paral- 
lels to the legend of Paradise show that this, too, 
came from further East, but whether from Babylonia 
specifically is an open question, since the Babylo- 
nians located Paradise not at the source of the 
streams, so far as we know, but rather at their 
mouth. We have besides a Buddhistic parallel to 
the story of Sodom. (Cp. T. Cassel, Mischle Sind- 

As to the time when these legends entered Israel 
the opinions of investigators are divided; to us it 
seems probable from interior evidence that these 
legends wandering from race to race reached Canaan 
as early as some time in the second millennium B. C. 
and were adopted by Israel just as it was assimilat- 
ing the civilisation of Canaan. We know from the 
Tell-el-Amarna correspondence that Babylonian 
influence was working upon Canaan even in this 
early period; and on the other hand, a later time, 


when Israel's self-consciousness had awakened, 
would scarcely have accepted these foreign myths. 


Egyptian influence is recognisable in the romance 
of Joseph, which has its scene partly in Egypt and 
very likely goes back to Egyptian legends. This is 
particularly evident in the legend of Joseph's 
agrarian policy, xlvii. 13 ff. We may well wonder 
that we find so few Egyptian elements in Genesis, 
but so far as we can see the same observation is to be 
made for the civilisation of Israel in general: Egypt 
was already a decadent nation and had but slight 
influence upon Canaan. We shall find also Phoeni- 
cian and Aramaic elements in the legends; the 
second is proven by the importance of the city of 
Haran to the patriarchs. 

The probable home of the Ishmael legend is 
Ishmael, and that of Lot the mountains of Moab, 
where Lot's cave was shown, xix. 30. The Jacob- 
Esau stories and the Jacob-Laban stories were orig- 
inally told in "Jacob"; the Shem -Japhet- Canaan 
legend in "Shem," as it would seem; the Abel-Cain 
legend neither in Abel, which perished according to 
the legend, nor in Cain, which was cursed and 
exiled; accordingly in some unnamed people. 


The legends of worship in Genesis we may assume 
with the greatest certainty to have originated in the 
places of which they treat. The same may be said 
of other legends which ascribe names to definite 
places. Accordingly it is probable that most of the 
legends of the patriarchs were known before Israel 


came into Canaan. This assumption is supported 
by the character of many of the legends of Genesis: 
the complaisance and peacefulness of the figures of 
the patriarchs are by no means Israelitish charac- 
teristics. The connexion of man and fruitland 
(Cp. the Commentary, p. 5) in the story of Paradise 
is conceivable only among a people of peasants. 
According to the Cain and Abel legend also, the 
field is God's property, iv. 14. 

But especially the religion of Genesis hints of a 
non-lsraelitish origin for most of the legends: two 
of our sources (E and P) avoid calling the God of 
the patriarchs "Jahveh," in which we may see a last 
relic of the feeling that these stories really have 
nothing to do with "Jahveh" the God of Israel, as 
furthermore the book of Job, which also treats a 
foreign theme, does not use the name "Jahveh." 
But even in the third source (J), which speaks of 
"Jahveh," the name "Jahveh Zebaoth" is not 
found. On a few occasions we are able to catch the 
name of the pre-Jahvistic God of the legend; we 
hear of "EI Lahai Ro'i" at Lahai Ro'i, xvi. 30, of 
"El '01am" at Beersheba, xxi. 33 ff., of "El 
Bethel" at Bethel, xxxi. 13; El Shaddai and El 
'Eljon are probably also such primitive names. In 
the legend of Abraham at Hebron there are assumed 
at the start three gods; polytheism is also to be 
traced in the legend of the heavenly ladder at 
Bethel and in the fragment of the Mahanaim 
legend, xxxii. 2, where mention is made of many 
divine beings. 

We recognise Israelitish origin with perfect cer- 
tainty only in those legends that introduce expressly 
Israelitish names, that is particularly in the legends 


of Dinah (Simeon and Levi) xxxiv, Tamar (Judah) 
xxxviii, and Reuben xxxv. 22. But we do not 
mean to declare by this that other narratives may 
not be of Israelitish origin. In particular the con- 
siderable number of legends which have their scene 
in Negeb (southward of Judah) may very likely be 
of Israelitish origin. But Israelitish tradition flows 
unmixed, so far as we can see, only from the intro- 
duction of the story of Moses. 

The general view of the legendary traditions of 
Israel gives us, then, so far as we are able to make 
it out, the following main features: The legends of 
the beginnings in the main are Babylonian, the 
legends of the patriarchs are essentially Canaanitish, 
and after these come the specifically Israelitish 
traditions. This picture corresponds to the history 
of the development of civilisation: in Canaan the 
native civilisation grows up on a foundation essen- 
tially Babylonian, and after this comes the Israel- 
itish national life. It is a matter of course that the 
sequence of periods in the themes for story-telling 
and in the epochs of civilisation should correspond; 
thus among modern peoples the children make the 
acquaintance first of the Israelitish stories, next of 
the Graeco-Roman, and finally the modern subjects, 
quite in accordance with the influences in the his- 
tory of our civilisation. 


A particularly interesting problem is offered by 
the correspondence of certain legends to Greek sub- 
jects; for instance the story of the three men who 
visit Abraham is told among the Greeks by Hyrieus 
at Tanagra (Ovid, Fast., V., 495 ff.); the story of 


Potiphar's wife contains the same fictional motive 
as that of Hippolytus and Phaedra and is found in 
other forms; there are also Greek parallels for the 
story of the curse upon Reuben (Homer, Iliad, IX., 
447 ff.) and for the story of the quarrel of the 
brothers Esau and Jacob (ApoUodor., Biblioth., II., 
2/1); the legend of Lot at Sodom suggests that of 
Philemon and Baucis. In the legends of the begin- 
nings also there are related features: the declaration 
that man and woman were originally one body 
(Plato, Symp., p. 189 ff.), and the myth of the 
Elysian happiness of the primeval time are also 
familiar to the Greeks. The solution of this prob- 
lem will surely be found in the assumption that both 
these currents of tradition are branches of one great 
Oriental stream. 

Accordingly we infer that the legends of Genesis 
are of very varied origin, which is altogether con- 
firmed by more careful examination. For the nar- 
ratives themselves are far from consistent: some 
conceive of the patriarchs as peasants, others as 
shepherds, but never as city-dwellers; some have 
their scene in Babylonia, some in Egypt, some in 
Aram, and others in North and South Canaan; some 
assume an original polytheism, others speak of the 
guardian genius (El) of the place, some think of 
God as the severe lord of mankind, others praise 
the mercy of God, and so on. 


Naturally these foreign themes were vigorously 
adapted in Israel to the nationality and the religion 
of the people, a process to be recognised most 
clearly in the case of the Babylonian-Hebrew legend 


of the Deluge. Here the polytheism has disap- 
peared: the many gods have been dropped in favor 
of the one (the myth of creation), or have been 
reduced to servants of the one (the legend of 
Hebron); the local divinities have been identified 
with Jahveh and their names regarded as epithets of 
Jahveh in the particular locality involved (xvi. 13; 
xxi. 33; xxxi. 13). 

The amalgamation of these legends and their 
infilling with the spirit of a higher religion is one 
of the most brilliant achievements of the people of 
Israel. But quite apart from the religion, in this 
Israelitising of the legends it is very certain that a 
quantity of changes took place of which we can 
survey only a small portion. Foreign personages 
were displaced by native ones: as for instance the 
Hebrew Enoch took the place of the Babylonian 
magician Enmeduranki, while the more familiar 
Noah took the place of the hero in the Babylonian 
account of the Deluge. Thus also the Egyptian 
stories found in the last of Genesis were transferred 
to the Israelite figure of Joseph. And thus in many 
cases the stories which are now connected with 
definite personages may not have belonged to 
them originally. Or again, native personages 
were associated with the foreign ones: thus Esau- 
Se'ir was identified with Edom, and Jacob with 
Israel, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made to be 
ancestors of the people of Israel. Or foreign 
legends were localised in the places of Canaan: 
thus the story of the three visitors of Abraham, 
which is known also to the Greeks, is localised at 
Hebron; the legend of the vanished cities, which 
even in the form preserved knows nothing of the 


salt lake, beside the Dead Sea. And in the process 
various specifically Israelitish features have been 
introduced into the legends, for instance, the 
prophecies that Esau (Edom) would sometime 
separate from Jacob (Israel), xxvii. 40; that Joseph 
would receive Shechem, xlviii. 22; that Manasseh 
would dwindle as compared with Ephraim. In the 
legend of Jacob and Laban the motive of the bound- 
ary treaty at Gilead is a later interpolation; a 
piece about the preservation of Zoar has been added 
to the legend of Sodom. The legends of worship 
which were originally intended to explain the sanc- 
tity of the place, were transferred to Jahveh and to 
the patriarch Jared and received the new point that 
they were to explain why Jared had the right to 
worship Jahveh at this place. 


Further alterations came about by exchange or 
combination of local traditions. We can imagine 
that such things happened very frequently in connex- 
ion with travel, especially perhaps on the occasion of 
the great pilgrimages to the tribal sanctuaries, and 
by means of the class of travelling story-tellers. 
Thus the legends travelled from place to place and 
are told in our present form of the tradition regard- 
ing various places. The story of Sodom and 
Gomorrah was localised, as it seems, by another 
tradition at Adma and Sebo'im (cp. my Commen- 
tary^ p. 195). According to another tradition a 
similar legend was told in connexion with Gibeah 
in Benjamin Qudges xix). The rescue of Ishmael 
was localised both in Lahai Roi and in Beersheba 
(xxi. 14). The meeting of Jacob and Esau on the 


former's return was located at Mahanaim and at 
Penuel on the Jabbok (in Northeastern Canaan), 
where it seems originally not to belong, since Esau 
is supposed to be located in Edom, south of Canaan. 
The names of the patriarchs are given in connexion 
with the most various places, all claiming to have 
been founded by them; Abraham particularly in 
Hebron, but also in Beersheba and elsewhere; Isaac 
not only in Beersheba, but also in Mizpah (xxxi. 
53) ; Jacob in Penuel, Bethel and Shechem. In which 
of the places the figures were originally located we 
are unable to say, nor whether Abraham or Isaac 
was the original personage in the legend of Gerar. 
These transformations are too old to be traced out 
in detail. Wellhausen's conjecture (Prolegomena, 
p. 323) that Abraham is probably the latest person- 
age among the patriarchs, is untenable. 

Then again, various legends have been combined 
(see pp. 45 and 56), for instance, the stories of Para- 
dise and of the creation as told by J, and the myth 
of the creation and of the Elysian period as told 
by P. 

Or again, various different personages have grown 
together: thus the figure of Noah in Genesis consists 
of three originally different personages, the builder 
of the ark, the vintager, and the father of Shem, 
Ham and Japhet. In Cain we have combined the 
different personages: (i) Cain, the son of the first 
human couple, (2) Cain, the brother of Abel, (3) 
Cain, the founder of cities. Jacob, according to 
the legend of Penuel, is a giant who wrestles with 
God himself; according to the Jacob-Esau stories he 
is shrewd but cowardly, thus seeming to be an 
entirely different person; probably the Jacob to 


whom God reveals himself at Bethel is still a differ- 
ent person. 

Incidentally to the joining together of the legends 
the pedigrees of the patriarchs were established: 
thus Abraham became the father of Isaac, and he in 
turn of Jacob; thus Ishmael was made a son of 
Abraham and Lot made his nephew, and so on. 
And the reasons for this are not at all clear. How 
old this pedigree may be we cannot tell. The 
amalgamation of the legends is a process which cer- 
tainly was under way long before Israel was in 
Canaan; we can imagine that it proceeded with 
especial rapidity and thoroughness at the time when 
Israel was again gathering itself together as a nation 
under the first kings. 


And not only from place to place, but also from 
age to age, do our legends wander. In general they 
are simply repeated, and often with what is to us 
an incredible fidelity, — perhaps only half understood 
or grown entirely unintelligible, and yet transmitted 
further! How faithfully the legends have been told 
we can learn by comparing the different variants of 
the same story, which, in spite of more or less 
deviation, agree nevertheless in the general plan 
and often even in the very words. Compare, for 
instance, the two variants of the legend of Rebeccah. 

And yet even these faithfully told legends are 
subject to the universal law of change. When a 
new generation has come, when the outward condi- 
tions have changed or the thoughts of men have 
altered, whether it be in religion or ethical ideals or 
aesthetic taste, the popular legend cannot per- 


manently remain the same. Slowly and hesitat- 
ingly, always at a certain distance behind, the 
legends follow the general changes in conditions, 
some more, others less. And here, consequently, 
the legends furnish us a very important basis for 
judging of changes in the people; a whole history 
of the religious, ethical and aesthetic ideas of 
ancient Israel can be derived from Genesis. 


If any one proposes to study this history he will 
do well to begin with the variants. It is the char- 
acteristic of legend as well as of oral tradition that 
it exists in the form of variants. Each one, how- 
ever faithful it may be, and especially every partic- 
ular group and every new age, tells somewhat 
differently the story transmitted to it. The most 
important variants in Genesis are the two stories of 
Ishmael (xvi.; xxi. 8 ff.), and next the legend of 
the danger to the patriarch's wife, which is handed 
down to us in three versions (xii. 13 ff . ; xx. 26), 
and then the associated legend of the treaty at 
Beersheba, likewise in three versions. In the case 
of these stories the variants are told with almost 
entire independence of one another. 

To these are to be added the many cases in which 
the stories are transmitted to us in the variants of J 
and E (or of the various hands in J) worked over by 
the hand of an editor; the chief illustrations of this 
method being the stories of Jacob and of Joseph. 
Sometimes, furthermore, variants of portions of 
Genesis are transmitted to us in other Biblical 
books: thus the idyllic account of the way in which 
Jacob became acquainted with Rachel at the foun- 


tain is told also of Moses and Zipporah; the renun- 
ciation of the old gods under the oak at Shechem is 
told of Jacob and also of Joshua (Joshua xxiv.) ; the 
interpretation of the dream of the foreign king is 
told of both Joseph and Daniel. 

Let the investigator make his first observations 
on these twice-told tales; when he has thus acquired 
the keen eye and found certain lines of develop- 
ment, then let him compare also the legends which 
are told but once. Then he will begin to see how 
extraordinarily varied these legends are; among 
them are the coarsest and the most delicate, the 
most offensive and the most noble, those showing a 
naive, polytheistic religion, and others in which is 
expressed the most ideal form of faith. 


Moreover, the history of the legends is to be 
derived from the individual narratives themselves. 
If we look sharply we shall see revisions in the taste 
of a later time, slight or extensive additions bring- 
ing in a thought which was foreign to the old nar- 
rator; in certain rare cases we may even assume that 
a whole story has been added to the tradition (chap. 
XV.); and such additions are recognised by the fact 
that they are out of place in an otherwise harmo- 
nious story, and usually also by the fact that they are 
relatively unconcrete: the art of story-telling, which 
in olden times was in such high perfection, degen- 
erated in later times, and the latest, in particular, 
care more for the thought than for the narrative. 
Hence such additions usually contain speeches. 
Sometimes also short narrative notes are added to 
the legend cycles, as for instance, we are told briefly 


of Jacob that he bought a field in Shechem (xxxiii. 
18-20), or that Deborah died and was buried at 
Bethel (xxxv. 8), and so on. 

But with these faithful narrators more significant 
than the additions are certainly the omissions which 
are intended to remove features that have become 
objectionable; for we find gaps in the narratives at 
every step. Indeed, to those of a later time often 
so much had become objectionable or had lost its 
interest that some legends have become mere torsos: 
such is the case with the marriages with angels, with 
the story of Reuben (xxxv. 21-223), of Mahanaim 
(xxxiii. 2 ff.). In other cases only the names of the 
figures of the legend have come down to us without 
their legends: thus of the patriarchs Nahor, Iscah, 
Milcah (xi. 29), Phichol, Ahuzzath (xxvi. 26); from 
the legend of the giant Nimrod we have only the 
proverbial phrase, "like Nimrod, a mighty hunter 
before the Lord" (x. 9). By other instances we can 
see that the stories, or particular portions of them, 
have lost their connexion and were accordingly no 
longer rightly understood: the narrators do not 
know why Noah's dove brought precisely an olive 
leaf (viii. 11), why Judah was afraid to give to 
Tamar his youngest son also (xxxviii. il), why 
Isaac had but one blessing to give (xxvii. 36), and 
why he had to partake of good things before the 
blessing (xxvii. 4), why it was originally told that 
Jacob limped at Penuel (xxxii. 32), and so forth. 

Hence there is spread over many legends some- 
thing like a blue haze which veils the colors of the 
landscape: we often have a feeling that we indeed 
are still able to recall the moods of the ancient 
legends, but that the last narrators had ceased to 


have a true appreciation of those moods. We must 
pursue all these observations, find the reasons that 
led to the transformations, and thus describe the 
inner history of the legends. But here we give only 
a short sketch. 


The most important element in the history of 
the legends is probably this: in older times as the 
outward circumstances in which they arose were 
shifted, the legends also incurred certain alter- 
ations. Thus it was forgotten who the king of 
Gerar really was (xx. 26), and the king of Egypt 
was put in instead (xii. 10 ff.). Incidentally it 
seems, according to Winckler, that a confusion 
arose between Mizraim (Egypt) and the North 
Arabian tribe of the Muzrim, to whom Gerar 
belonged; and Hagar also has been changed from a 
Muzritish Arabian woman to a woman of Mizraim, 
that is, an Egyptian. Or, at a time when the Philis- 
tines had possession of Gerar this people also was 
brought into the legend of Gerar, whereas the oldest 
version of the story (xxi. 22 ff., 26) knows as yet 
nothing of this fact. The figure of Hagar, once the 
type of a tempestuous Bedouin woman (xvi.) has 
lost this characteristic color in the later tradition, 
which was not familiar with the desert. The stories 
of Jacob's breeding devices while in Laban's employ, 
once the delight of the professional hearers and 
therefore quite detailed, were later much abbreviated 
for hearers or readers who had no interest in the 
subject. (See Commentary, p. 307.) Of the theories 
regarding the gradual origin of human arts and 
trades (iv. 17 ff.) only fragments have been pre- 


served. Very often the characteristic elements of 
the legend, when far from the places where they 
were understood, grew colorless or were replaced 
by others. This is particularly clear in the legends 
of sanctuaries, of which we shall speak later. Still 
other legends were probably entirely forgotten 
because the interest in them had died out. And in 
addition to this, the imagination, which is mightily 
stirred by such narratives, develops them almost 
involuntarily. We can here and there recognise 
such continuations and developments due to the 
free play of the imagination. 


The most important feature of this study is the 
history of religion. In very many legends of Gen- 
esis a monotheistic tendency is to be observed, 
an avoidance of mythology to which we have re- 
ferred (see pp. 15 and 95). This feeling contin- 
ued to grow in Israel and was the cause for the 
fading out of a number of legends. In the case 
of the myth of creation, of which we have older 
variants of a different attitude, the history of this 
elimination of the mythological elements is still to 
be observed. The narrative of the Deluge, too, has 
lost much of its color in the oldest Hebrew account 
(that of J), and doubtless from this very reason. 
Others, like the legend of the marriage with angels 
(vi. 1-4) and of Mahanaim (xxxv. 2i-22^j, which 
were once in existence in older Israelitish tradition, 
are in their present form entirely mutilated. Of 
the Nephilim, the Hebrew "Titans," which are 
said to have been very famous once (vi. 4), we have 
nothing but the name. 



Furthermore, we may observe how naively the 
older legends speak of Jahveh's appearance on 
earth, but how the later time objected to this and 
made the revelation of the divinity even more 
intangible. While according to the oldest belief 
the divinity himself walked without reserve among 
men — as in the present form of the legends of 
Paradise and of the Deluge — the later time decked 
the theophany in the veil of mystery: God ap- 
peared only in the darkness of night and vanished 
with the rising of the sun (xix.) ; or he appeared to 
men without their recognising him (xviii.), and in 
this way the divinity, though revealing himself, 
nevertheless did not wholly unveil his nature. Still 
later versions put some subordinate divine being in 
place of the divinity himself, J calling it "the angel 
of Jahveh," and E "the angel of God," though this 
device was not observed consistently; passages 
enough have been left which presuppose the appear- 
ance of Jahveh himself, the older version peeping 
forth from behind the newer one. 

This same point of view has led to the change of 
God's appearance on earth to the apparition in a 
dream, or to the declaration that the angel remained 
in heaven and spoke to the patriarch from there: 
the mystery of the dream-life left a veil for the 
divinity who revealed himself, or in the other case 
he was not seen at all, but only heard. The last 
stage in this development is represented by those 
legends in which the divinity no longer appears at 
a definite point in the story, but dominates the 
whole from the ultimate hidden background, as in 
the stories of Rebeccah and of Joseph. 


Thus we progress in Genesis by many stages from 
crass mythology to a belief in providence which 
seems to us altogether modern. It is a marvel 
indeed that the legend of Penuel (xxxii. 25 ff.) is 
transmitted to us in such primitive form; in this 
the device has been to leave it undefined who the 
God really was that attacked Jacob. 


We recognise in this process of refining the 
nature of the theophany at the same time the dis- 
sociation of the divinity from the sanctuaries: the 
oldest belief that the God belonged to this partic- 
ular place and could operate nowhere else, is not 
clearly found in a single legend of Genesis. On 
the contrary, the opinion of the legend is that the 
places are sacred to the divinity because he had 
once in primitive time appeared here to some an- 
cestor. Even the very old legend of Hebron, which 
actually has God appear and eat, does not allege 
that the divinity came forth out of the tree. In 
the story of Hagar's flight, the mother of Ishmael 
meets the divinity at the well, but no explanation 
is given as to what connexion he had with the well. 
The great age of this whole point of view is to be 
gathered from the story of Bethel: the oldest reli- 
gion had thought to find the God of the place in the 
stone itself, as the name of the sacred stone, beth-el, 
or "house of God," shows; but those of the later 
age believed that God dwelt high above Bethel, in 
heaven, and only a ladder preserved the connexion 
between the real dwelling of God and its symbol. 
This belief in the heavenly dwelling of the divinity 
rested, as the legend shows, upon a polytheistic 


basis: Jacob sees many divine beings going up and 
down the ladder. 

Many legends of sanctuaries are transmitted to 
us in very faded form: the story of Ishmael 
(in both versions) and likewise from the legends of 
Hebron (xviii.), Mahanaim (xxxii. 2 f.), Penuel 
(xxxii. 25 ff.) and others, we no longer gather that 
the scenes of the stories are places of worship. 
The legend of the sacrifice of Isaac, originally a 
legend of worship, has lost all its setiological pur- 
pose in the version transmitted to us and remains 
nothing but a character sketch. In the legend of 
Penuel, too, the aetiological element is now forgot- 
ten. The anointing of the stone at Bethel, once a 
sacrificial ceremony, seems in its transmitted form 
to be no more than a sort of rite of consecration. 
The Massebha, once sacred stones, symbols of the 
divinity, are finally mere memorial or tomb stones. 
The cave of Machpelah, once a place of worship, is 
nothing but the burial-place of the patriarchs in our 
form of the narrative. And so on. 

The fading out of these legends of worship shows 
plainly that these stories are not preserved for us 
in the form in which they were probably told orig- 
inally on the spot for the purpose of establishing 
its sanctity, but as they circulated among the people 
in later times and far from the places concerned. 
At the same time we see from this colorless charac- 
ter of the legends concerning the popular sanctuaries 
that the latter had ceased to occupy the foreground 
of religious interest with the people, or at least with 
certain groups of the people. The bond between 
religion and the sanctuaries was already loosened 
when the passionate polemic of the prophets severed 


it. How else could the people of Judah have 
accepted the "Deuteronomian Reformation," which 
destroyed these places with the exception of the 
royal temple at Jerusalem! (2 Kings xxiii.). 

god's relation to man. 

Genesis furnishes the most varied utterances con- 
cerning the relation of the divinity to mankind. In 
the oldest legends we hear how God holds men in 
check, how he guards and favors certain individuals 
in accordance with his sovereign pleasure, and how 
he glorifies and aggrandises his people above all 
others. In certain of the oldest legends God's 
action in such cases seems not to involve at all any 
thought of the moral or religious attitude of men: 
God reveals himself to Jacob at Bethel simply 
because Jacob happens to come to Bethel; similarly 
at Penuel the divinity assails Jacob without any 
evident reason; God is pleased with Abel's offering 
simply because he loves Abel the shepherd; he pro- 
tects Abraham in Egypt and gives a fortunate out- 
come to the patriarch's deception; in any conflict 
of the patriarch with third parties God takes the 
part of his favorite even when the latter is plainly 
in the wrong as in the case of Abraham in dealing 
with Abimelech (xx. 7), or when he has indulged 
in very questionable practises, as in the case of 
Jacob with Laban, and so on. 

But alongside these there are other legends upon 
a higher plane, according to which God makes his 
favor to depend upon the righteousness of men: he 
destroys sinful Sodom, but saves Lot because of his 
hospitableness; he destroys the disobliging Onan, 
and exiles Cain because of his fratricide; Joseph is 


helped by him because he has deserved assistance 
by his chastity and his magnanimity; to Abraham 
he gives a son because of his kindness to strangers. 
These legends all belong, taken absolutely, to a 
later time which has a finer ethical sense, yet they 
are all primitive in Israel. The belief that God 
looks with approval upon the just and rewards the 
wicked according to his sin is certainly familiar to 
the religion of Israel from the beginning (cp. i Sam. 
xxiv. 20; 2 Sam. iii. 39). From a broader point of 
view we may include here another group of legends 
which tell how God has compassion on the outcast 
and despairing; a particularly affecting instance of 
this is the legend of the exile of Hagar (xxi. 8 ff.). 
A third variety of legend emphasises strongly 
what it is that wins God's approval, to wit, faith, 
obedience, invincible trust, — these God imputes as 
righteousness. At God's command Noah built a 
ship upon dry land; following God's word Abraham 
left his secure home and migrated to alien lands, 
trusting in God's promise that he should become a 
nation despite the fact that he had not even a son 
as yet. Thus they won the favor of God. The 
legend of the suit for the hand of Rebeccah also 
shows how such steadfast trust in God is rewarded. 
In the legend of the sacrifice of Isaac we have a 
wonderful character sketch showing how the man of 
true piety submits to even the hardest and most ter- 
rible trials if God so commands. The famous prayer 
of Jacob, xxxii. 10-13, portrays the humble grati- 
tude of the pious man who confesses himself to be 
unworthy of the divine favor. The narratives and 
pieces which speak thus of divine favor mark the 
climax of high religious feeling in Genesis; it is 


these especially which give value to Genesis even 
for the piety of the present day. We see in them 
a comparatively late development. This conclusion 
is supported by other reasons in the case of most of 
them: the Babylonian legend of the Deluge, for 
instance, knows nothing of the trial of the hero's 
faith; Jacob's prayer is quite secondary in its con- 
nexion, and what a contrast this prayer and its deep 
feeling makes with the remaining conduct of the 
eel-like Jacob! What a difference between it and 
the legend which stands beside it, Jacob's wrestling 
with the divinity! It is to be noted also how 
peculiarly inconcrete the story of Abraham's exodus 
is; while the narrative of the covenant, chapter xv., 
is perhaps a later composition without any basis 
of tradition! 


Thus we can discern here a series of thoughts 
about God leading from the crudest up to the high- 
est. But in any case these legends teach that it is 
an error to think that ancient Israel conceived only 
of a relation between God and Israel; on the con- 
trary, it is everywhere a matter of the relation of 
God to individual men. It is true that these per- 
sons are in part race types, but the legend looks 
upon them as persons and depicts God's relation to 
them in large measure just in the way in which the 
people of that time believed that God dealt with 
individuals. We should deprive many of these 
narratives of their whole charm if we failed to 
recognise this fact: the reason the legend of Hebron 
was heard so gladly by ancient listeners is that it 
tells how God rewards hospitality (thine and mine 


also!); and the story of how God hears the voice of 
the weeping boy Ishmael in the wilderness is touch- 
ing because it shows God having compassion on 
a child: this God will hear the cry of our children 


Another line of development is seen in the fact 
that the elder stories have a naive way of mingling 
profane and religious motives, and clearly without 
taking any offence at it: thus the legend of Abra- 
ham in Egypt celebrates the shrewdness of the 
patriarch, the beauty of his wife and the steadfast- 
ness of God. The legend of the Deluge praises not 
only the piety, but also the shrewdness, of Noah 
(in the story of his sending out the birds); the 
legend of the flight of Hagar (xvi.) gives quite a 
realistic picture of the condition of affairs in Abra- 
ham's household and then tells of God's assistance. 
These legends come, therefore, from a time when 
profane and sacred matters were still frankly united, 
when the men of Israel fought at the same time for 
God and the popular hero ("a sword for Jahveh and 
Gideon!" Judges vii. 20), when lively humor was 
not inconsistent with piety, as, for instance, the 
merry butcher Samson who is at the same time 
God's Tiazir (devotee), or the humor of the legend 
of Abraham in Egypt. Now we see by the variants 
especially of this last legend that later times no 
longer tolerated this mingling of profane and sacred 
motives, or at least that it offended by the attempt 
to glorify at the same time God and profane quali- 
ties of men. Accordingly this later time con- 
structed stories which are specifically "sacred," 


that is, which deal only with God and piety, and in 
which profane interests are relegated to the back- 
ground. Such legends are those of Abraham's 
exodus, of the covenant, of the sacrifice of Isaac, 
and so on. Here the formerly popular saga is on 
the point of becoming "legend," that is, a char- 
acteristically "sacred" or "priestly" narrative. 
Whether this phenomenon was connected with the 
fact that the legends were at that time making their 
way into certain definite "sacred" or "priestly" 
circles, we are unable to say. 

The earlier times knew also legends of the patri- 
archs which were altogether of profane character, 
such as the legend of the separation of Abraham 
and Lot, or that of Jacob and Laban. In later 
tradition religious elements made their way into 
even these legends and gave them a religious color- 
ing. For instance, objection was taken to the 
notion that Canaan belonged to Abraham simply 
because Lot did not choose it, and an addition sup- 
plied to the effect that God himself after Lot's with- 
drawal personally promised the land to Abraham 
(xiii. 14-17). Similarly, later narrators hesitated to 
say that Jacob had run away from Laban and 
accordingly interpolated the explanation that God 
had revealed the plan to him (xxxi. 3). 


Furthermore, a whole history of ethics can be con- 
structed from these legends. Many of the legends 
of the patriarchs are filled with the pure enjoyment 
of the characters of the patriarchs. Consequently 
many things in these characters which are to us 

112 THK l.±.(iJ£J>IVi> Ul< UKJ>IJL^lii. 

offensive caused no hesitation in the time which 
first told the stories, but were, on the contrary, a 
source of pleasure or of inspiration. The people of 
old took pleasure in Benjamin's career of plunder 
(xlix. 29), in Hagar's defiant spirit (xvi.) and in 
the courage of Tamar and the daughters of Lot, who 
took seed of a man where they could find it, and 
further in the shrewd deceit of Abraham in Egypt, 
in Joseph's cunning when he introduced his broth- 
ers to his prince as shepherds (xlvii. i f.), in 
Rachel's trick by which she deceived her father so 
perfectly (xxxi. 34), and especially in the wiles and 
schemes of the arch-rogue Jacob. It is impossible 
to ignore the great role played by deceit and cun- 
ning in these legends of the patriarchs, and the 
amusement the people of old got out of it, and the 
character which they thus reveal to us. Then we 
see from many examples how the later tradition 
took offence at these stories, re-interpreted them or 
remodeled them and tried to eliminate the ques- 
tionable features as far as this was possible. This 
is most evident in the variants of the legend of the 
danger of Sarah: here the later narrators have 
remodeled the whole story, which plainly appeared 
highly questionable to them, changing, for instance, 
Abraham's lie into a mental reservation (xx. 12), 
the disgraceful presents which the patriarch receives 
for his wife into a testimonial of good repute (xx. 
16), and even finally deriving Abraham's wealth 
from the blessing of God (xxvi. 12); similarly, the 
deportation of Abraham (xii. 20) has been changed 
into its opposite (xx. 15), and so on. 

The defiant Hagar of chapter xvi. has been 
changed into a patient and unfortunate woman, in 


order that no offence might be taken with God's 
compassion upon her (xxi. 8 ff.); the attempt has 
been made to explain Abraham's treatment of 
Hagar by adding that God had commanded him to 
put her away (xxi. ii). Especial pains has been 
taken to clear Jacob of the charge of dishonesty in 
his relations with Laban: in several long speeches 
the narrator undertakes the demonstration that 
there is no shadow upon Jacob; Jacob's wives and 
finally Laban himself are obliged to recognise his 
uprightness (xxxi. 4 ff. ; 36 ff.). Here too the resort 
is, to ascribe to the authority of God that which 
seems questionable to men: God always caused the 
herds to bring forth in Jacob's interest (xxxi. 7), 
and God himself revealed to Jacob the color of the 
newborn for the coming year (xxxi. 10 ff.). With 
somewhat less energy the narrators have taken hold 
of the story of Tamar; yet here too they have done 
their best to wash Judah white: Judah, they urge, 
did not go to Timnath until his wife was dead. 
And a similar endeavor has been made to give at 
least for Lot himself a somewhat more decent shape 
to the story of Lot's daughters, which was very 
offensive to those of the later age: they say that 
Lot was deceived by his daughters. 


The olden time undoubtedly took delight in the 
patriarchs; it did not consider them saints, but told 
of them quite frankly all sorts of things that were 
far from ideal. Some of the old stories are in this 
respect exceedingly true to nature: they portray 
the fathers as types of the Israelitish nationality 


just such as individual men in Israel are. Thus the 
story of the flight of Hagar (xvi.) sketches the 
people in Abraham's household: Sarah as the jeal- 
ous wife, Hagar as the defiant slave, and Abraham 
as the peace-loving husband. The later time with 
its "sacred" or "priestly" feeling could not toler- 
ate such things. On the contrary, this age always 
saw in the patriarchs models of piety, and of that 
intense and tender piety which belonged to this 
later age. Thus there has entered into the portraits 
of the patriarchs a peculiar dissonance: the very 
Abraham who thrust his son Ishmael into the wil- 
derness (xxi. 14), who does not hesitate to turn 
Sarah over to the foreign king and even to accept 
presents for her (xii. 16), we are asked to regard 
as the same who is the lofty model of faith for all 
ages! And the cunning Jacob is the same who 
speaks the wonderful prayer of gratitude! We 
resolve this dissonance and free these legends from 
the unpleasant suspicion of untruthfulness by recog- 
nising that the different tones are the product of 
different periods. 

The earlier time did not hesitate to recognise 
here and there the rights of aliens when brought 
into conflict with the patriarchs: for instance, 
Pharaoh's right as opposed to Abraham's (xii. 18 
f.), and Esau's as opposed to Jacob's (xxvii. 36); 
indeed some of the patriarchs have been simply 
abandoned: Simeon, Levi and Reuben were cursed 
by their great-grandfather (xlix. 3-7)! Israelitish 
patriotism was at that time so sound that it tolerated 
such views. But the later times, with their one- 
sided, excessive reverence for "the people of God," 
could not endure the thought that the patriarchs 


had ever been wrong or done wrong. Thus we see 
how one of the narrators takes pains to show that 
Abraham was not altogether in the wrong in his 
relations with Abimelech (in the speech, xxi. 11-13). 
From the same motive, in order to avoid saying 
anything bad about the patriarchs, only a fragment 
of the story of the curse of Reuben has been trans- 
mitted (xxxv. 2i-22«), and the story of Simeon and 
Levi has been cast into several forms (xxxiv.): first 
excuses for the brothers were sought — they were 
defending the honor of their sisterQ) — and finally 
they were even justified and their betrayal of 
Shechem represented as quite the natural thing. 
Here, too, God is finally made to take their side 
(E, cp. xxxv. 5). We do not always relish such 
modifications, and sometimes it seems to us as if 
they made the matter worse, rather than better. 
Thus, the lie of Abraham in introducing his wife as 
his sister (xii. 13), in which the earlier narrators 
take evident pleasure, is after all more tolerable 
than the mental reservation which is put in its place, 
which seems to us Jesuitical (xx. 12). But despite 
these instances we must not surrender our gratifica- 
tion at this gradual improvement in ethical judg- 
ment which we can see in Genesis. 

On the history of ethical taste which is to be 
found in these legends we have already treated in 
the preceding pages (see p. in) and have but a few 
points to add here. We gain a deep insight into 
the heart of the primitive people when we collect 
the chief motives in which the eye of the legends 
takes pleasure. This is not the place for such a 
summary; attention may, however, be called to the 
fact of how little is said of murder and assassina- 


tion, and on the contrary how much is said of peace- 
ful occupations and household affairs, especially of 
the begetting of children; eating and drinking, too, 
play quite a role. These narrators are thoroughly 
posted in the life of peasants and shepherds and "are 
therefore a prime source for our "archaeology"; 
but they are not at home in political affairs: in this 
they are simple and natural. 

The older legends are often quite coarse: for 
instance, the legend of the defiant Hagar (xvi.), or 
Jacob's deception of his blind father and the de- 
light of the listeners (xxvii.), or the exceedingly 
coarse way in which Laban's quick-witted daughter 
deceives her father (xxxi. 34 f.): it must have been 
a strong, coarse race that took pleasure in such 
stories. How very different are the later stories 
which overflow with tears, such as the legend of the 
exile of Hagar (xxi.), of the sacrifice of Isaac, and 
especially the legends of Joseph! Here a different 
generation is expressing itself, one that loves emo- 
tion and tears. 

Still another distinction between the older and the 
later time is that the former was interested in the 
familiar things of its nearest surroundings, while the 
latter tries to give a piquant charm to its stories by 
locating the legend far away and introducing the 
description of foreign customs, as in the story of 


Accordingly we have an abundance of grounds on 
which we can establish the age or the youth of the 
narratives. Sometimes we are enabled to outline 
a very brief preliminary or pre-natal history of the 


legend in question, as for instance in the case of the 
legend of Hagar (xvi.), in which first an "EI," then 
Jahveh himself, and then his messenger, was the 
divinity that appeared. Often a series of various 
arguments lead to a given conclusion, that a legend 
is late or early; thus the legend of Abraham in 
Egypt is to be regarded for many reasons as very 
old; it is very brief, has a primitive local coloring, 
and does not idealise its personages, and so on. 
On the other hand, many arguments lead to the con- 
clusion that the legend of Joseph is very late: it has 
the latest, spun-out style, few aetiological elements, 
contains the belief in Providence, and so on. But 
very often the various considerations cross one 
another: in that case it is evident that the legend 
contains a confused mixture of early and late ele- 
ments: thus the narrative in chapter xv. , containing 
no complications, seems to be relatively late, but 
the theophany in fire and smoke is surely a very 
primitive conception. The different phases of 
development have not been distinct and clear cut: 
early features often continued to hold their own for 
a long time; hence it will be necessary to conceive 
of this outline of the history of the legends not as 
simple and straightforward, but as very confused 
and full of vicissitudes. 


If we take one more survey of the history of these 
transformations, we shall surely have to admit that 
we can get sight of only a small part of the entire 
process. These transmutations must have begun at 
a very early period, a period so early that our 


sources give us no insight into it. This should warn 
us against supposing that we are able to arrive 
always at the very primitive significance of the sto- 
ries from the historical and aetiological allusions 
which we find in the narratives. In this connexion 
we may refer to the legends in which there have 
been no such allusions from the beginning, espe- 
cially the legend of Jacob and Laban. And a spe- 
cial warning is needed against rashly interpreting 
as tribal legends those legends whose heroes are 
plainly ancestors of tribes, for it may be, as has 
been shown above, that the story was applied to the 
tribal hero long after its origin. 

And if it is scarcely possible for us to declare 
from the sources handed down to us the original 
significance of the legends, neither may we claim to 
know in every case who the originals were of the 
figures in the legends of the patriarchs. Some of 
them are really names of countries, or races, and of 
tribes, as for instance, Israel, Ishmael, Ammon, 
Moab, Rachel, Leah, Hagar, Keturah, and the 
tribes of Israel. In an inscription of Thotmosis 
III (ca. 1500 B. C.) mention is made of a Canaani- 
tish tribe or district J'qb'ar, which would corre- 
spond to a Hebrew Ja"'qob'el (Hebrew 1 = Egyptian 
r); and the name Jacob-el would be related to Jacob 
as Jephthahel and Jabn^el are related to Jephthah 
and Jabne: they are all names of tribes or of places, 
like Israel, Ishmael, and J'rahm'el. Even on this 
evidence we should conclude that Jacob was origin- 
ally the name of a Canaanitish district, which 
existed in Canaan before the Israelitish immigra- 
tion.i ^___ 

iCp. Ed. Meyer ZAW 1886, p. 1. ff. 



Still another question is, whether these tribal 
names were not also originally names of divinities, 
as for instance Asshur is at the same time the 
name of the God of Asshur (Assyria). This is to be 
assumed for Gad, which is at the same time the 
name of the god of fortune, and also for Edom — 
cp. the name Obed-edom, "servant of Edom."' 
Names of divinities have been suspected further in 
Selah (cp. the name Methuselah = man of Selah), 
R°'u (cp. the name R''u-el), Nahor (cp. the name 
Ebednahor = servant of Nahor), Terah (perhaps the 
same as the North-Syrian god Tarhu), Haran (cp. 
the name Bethharan = temple of Haran). Sarah 
and Milkah are, as we know, names of the god- 
desses of Haran, with which the Biblical figures of 
Sarah and Milkah have perhaps some connexion. 
This suggests very easily the thought that Abra- 
ham, the husband of Sarah, has been substituted for 
the (moon-) god of Haran. The name Laban, too, 
suggests a god: L'bana means moon; the fact that 
Laban is represented as being a shepherd would 
correspond to his character as a moon-god: for the 
moon-god may be represented as the shepherd of 
the clouds. In ancient as well as in modern times 
the attempt has been repeatedly made to explain 
the figures of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob also as 
originally gods. There is no denying that this con- 
jecture is very plausible. The whole species of the 
legend — though not indeed every individual legend 
— originated in the myth; at least many legends 
are derived from myths. And such an interpreta- 
• Wellhausen Composition', p. 47, 2. ed. 


tion is very natural for the stories of Jonah in the 
whale's belly, of Esther (Istar), of Samson (Semes's 
sun) and others. What is more natural than to 
attempt this interpretation with the legends of Gen- 
esis whose origin goes back in part to prehistoric 
times when myths were the order of nature? But — 
as we look at it — the attempts in this line hitherto 
made have not been exactly fortunate and have 
sometimes failed to demonstrate their theses. Of 
such pieces as can be interpreted with reasonable 
certainty as remnants of mythical narratives there 
are not many among the tales of the patriarchs (we 
are not now speaking of the legends of the begin- 
nings) : the note that Abraham with 318 servants slew 
his enemies (xiv. 14) may, in Winckler's opinion, go 
back to a moon-myth, the moon being visible 318 
days in the year; Jacob's wrestling with God suggests 
that this Jacob was really a Titan, and consequently 
we can scarcely avoid seeing here a faded out myth; 
Joseph's dream that the sun, the moon, and eleven 
stars were compelled to bow down before him must 
have been originally an oracle referring to the Lord 
of Heaven before whom the highest powers of 
heaven bow, although it seems that this dream was 
introduced very late into the story of Joseph. 


But before we are warranted in declaring with 
regard to a figure in Genesis that it bears the 
impress of an earlier god, we must demand not 
merely that certain elements of a story permit a 
mythical interpretation, but that whole legends 
shall possess striking resemblances to known myths, 
or that they can be interpreted as myths in perfectly 


clear and unquestioned fashion. Such a demonstra- 
tion as this has not been given by investigators 
hitherto." Let us hope that those who attempt it 
in the future maybe more successful! But let us 
by no means fail to recognise the fact that Israel in 
historical times, when these legends were told, saw 
in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not gods but men, 
its ancestors. And we must further demand that 

'The older theory of GoldsXher {Der Mythos bez den Heb- 
raern, 1876), which depended chiefly on the etymologies of 
names, is long since discredited. Stucken {Astralmythen, I. 
Abraham. 1896, II. Lot, 1897) bases his assertions upon indi- 
vidual elements of the legends, for which he hunts together an 
amazing abundance of parallels from all over the world ; but 
these parallels are often only very incidental. As Etana, 
carried up to heaven by an eagle, according to the Babylonian 
myth, looks down upon the earth, so Abraham and Lot, accord- 
ing to Stucken, look upon the land from Bethel, and so Abra- 
ham looks up to heaven and upon Sodom. But such analogies 
will not stand attack. Winckler, Geschichte Israels, II., 1900, 
who continues to build upon this uncertain foundation, depends 
especially upon the characteristic numbers : the four wives of 
Jacob are the four phases of the moon, his twelve sons the 
months ; the seven children of Leah are the gods of the days 
of the week, the 300 pieces of silver which Benjamin, the 
youngest, receives are the 30 days of the last month, the 5 state 
dresses are the 5 intercalary days; Joseph's coat suggests the 
garments of Tamar and Istar (and every other garment !) ; his 
being thrown into the cistern denotes the descent of Tammuz 
into the under world ; the dipping of his coat in blood and his 
father's belief that he had been eaten by a wild beast suggest 
the slaying of Adonis by the boar, and so on. After such a 
review we cannot yet see satisfactory solutions of the problem 
in either of these works, although we gladly recognize the 
extensive learning and the keenness of them both. And yet 
we would emphasize the point, that there is no reason on prin- 
ciple against a mythical interpretation of the legends of the 


those investigators who propose to find mythologi- 
cal foundations to our legends must first of all inves- 
tigate most carefully the history of the legends 
which lies before us so clearly in the sources. Only 
for the oldest elements of the legends may a myth- 
ical origin be ultimately expected. Accordingly we 
are unable to say what the figures of Abraham, 
Isaac, and Jacob, which chiefly interest us, may 
have signified originally. But this is by no means 
strange. These matters are simply too primitive 
for us. 

Meditative apologetics is wont to lay great impor- 
tance upon the historical verity of Abraham; in our 
opinion there is no longer any room for this 
assumption, and moreover it is hard to see what 
significance this position can have for religion and 
the history of religion. For even if there had 
once been a leader by the name of Abraham, as is 
generally believed, and who conducted the migra- 
tion from Haran to Canaan, this much is beyond 
question with every one who knows anything of the 
history of legends, that a legend cannot be expected 
to preserve throughout so many centuries a picture 
of the personal piety of Abraham. The religion of 
Abraham is in reality the religion of the narrators 
of the legends, ascribed by them to Abraham. 


THE collecting of legends began even in the state 
of oral tradition. In the preceding pages (see 
p. 79 ff.) we have shown how individual stories first 
attracted one another and greater complexes of leg- 
ends were formed. Connecting portions were also 
composed by these collectors, such, notably, as the 
story of the birth of the sons of Jacob, which is not at 
all a popular legend but the invention of older story- 
tellers, and must have been in existence even before 
the work of J and E. And there are further addi- 
tions, such as the note that Jacob bought a field at 
Shechem, and other similar matters. Those who 
first wrote down the legends continued this process 
of collection. The writing down of the popular 
traditions probably took place at a period which 
was generally disposed to authorship and when 
there was a fear that the oral traditions might die 
out if they were not reduced to writing. We may 
venture to conjecture that the guild of story-tellers 
had ceased to exist at that time, for reasons 
unknown to us. And in its turn the reduction to 
writing probably contributed to kill out the remain- 



ing remnants of oral tradition, just as the written law 
destroyed the institution of the priestly Thora, and 
the New Testament canon the primitive Christian 

The collection of the legends in writing was not 
done by one hand or at one period, but in the 
course of a very long process by several or many 
hands. We distinguish two stages in this process: 
the older, to which we owe the collections of the 
Jahvist designated by 'J' ^iid the Elohist designated 
by 'E', and then a later, thorough revision in what 
is known as the Priestly Codex 'P'. In the preced- 
ing pages as a rule only those legends have been 
used which we attribute to J and E. All these 
books of legends contain not only the primitive 
legends, of which we have been speaking, but also 
tell at the same time their additional stories; we 
may (with Wildeboer) characterise their theme as 
"the choice of Israel to be the people of Jahveh"; 
in the following remarks, however, they will be 
treated in general only so far as they have to do 
with Genesis. 

"jahvist" and "elohist" collectors, not authors. 
Previous writers have in large measure treated J 
and E as personal authors, assuming as a matter of 
course that their writings, constitute, at least to some 
extent, units and originate in all essential features 
with their respective writers, and attempting to 
derive from the various data of these writings con- 
sistent pictures of their authors. But in a final 
phase criticism has recognised that these two col- 
lections do not constitute complete unities, and 
pursuing this line of knowledge still further has dis- 


tinguished within these sources still other subordi- 
nate sources.^ 

But in doing this there has been a neglect to raise 
with perfect clearness the primary question, how 
far these two groups of writings may be understood 
as literary unities in any sense, or whether, on the 
contrary, they are not collections, codifications of 
oral traditions, and whether their composers are 
not to be called collectors rather than authors. 

That the latter view is the correct one is shown 
(i) by the fact that they have adopted such hetero- 
geneous materials. J contains separate legends and 
legend cycles, condensed and detailed stories, 
delicate and coarse elements, primitive and modern 
elements in morals and religion, stories with vivid 
antique colors along with those quite faded out. 
It is much the same with E, who has, for instance, 
the touching story of the sacrifice of Isaac and at 
the same time a variant of the very ancient legend 
of Jacob's wrestling with the angel. This variety 
shows that the legends of E, and still more 
decidedly those of J, do not bear the stamp of a 
single definite time and still less of a single person- 
ality, but that they were adopted by their collectors 
essentially as they were found. 

Secondly, the same conclusion is suggested by an 
examination of the variants of J and of E. On the 
one hand they often agree most characteristically: 
both, for instance, employ the most condensed style 
in the story of Penuel, and in the story of Joseph 
the most detailed. For this very reason, because 
they are so similar, it was possible for a later hand 
to combine them in such a way that they are often 

' Such is the outcome especially in Budde's Urgeschichte. 


merged to a degree such that it is impossible for us 
to distinguish them. On the other hand, they 
frequently differ, in which case J very often has the 
elder version, but often the reverse. 

Thus the robust primitive version of the Hagar 
story in J (chap, xvi.) is older than the lachrymose 
version of E (xxi ) ; the story of Jacob and Laban 
is told more laconically and more naively by J than 
by E; in the narrative of the birth of the children 
of Jacob, J speaks with perfect frankness of the 
magic effect of the mandrakes (xxx. 14 ff.), instead 
of which E substitutes the operations of divine 
favor (xxx. 17); in the story of Dinah, J, who 
depicts Jacob's horror at the act of his sons, is more 
just and more vigorous in his judgment than E, 
where God himself is compelled to protect Jacob's 
sons (xxxv. 5, see variant reading of RV); in the 
story of Joseph the Ishmaelites of J (xxxvii. 25) are 
older than the Midianites of E (xxxvii. 28) who 
afterwards vanish from the account; in the testa- 
ment of Jacob his wish, according to E (xlviii. 7), 
to be buried beside his best loved wife is more 
tender and more sentimental than his request in J 
(xlvii. 29 ff.) to rest in the tomb with his ancestors; 
and other similar cases might be cited. 

On the other hand, E does not yet know of the 
Philistines in Gerar of whom J speaks (xxi. 26); the 
deception of Jacob by means of the garb of skins in 
E is more naive than that by means of the scent 
of the garments in J; the many divine beings whom, 
according to E, Jacob sees at Bethel are an older 
conception than that of the one Jahveh in the ver- 
sion of J; only in J, but not yet in E, do we sud- 
denly meet a belated Israelitising of the legend of 


the covenant of Gilead (xxxi 52) ; in the story of 
Joseph, Reuben, who had disappeared in historical 
times, occupies the same position as does in J the 
much better known Judah of later times; the vocab- 
ulary of E whereby he avoids the name of Jahveh 
throughout Genesis, is based, as shown above (see 
page 92) upon an early reminiscence which is 
lacking in J; on the other hand, one cannot deny 
that this absolutely consistent avoidance of the 
name of Jahveh before the appearance of Moses 
shows the reflexion of theological influence, which 
is wholly absent in J. 

These observations, which could easily be 
extended, show also that there is no literary con- 
nexion between J and E; J has not copied from E, 
nor E from J. If both sources occasionally agree 
verbally the fact is to be explained on the basis of 
a common original source. 

But thirdly, the principal point is that we can see 
in the manner in which the legends are brought 
together in these books the evidence that we are 
dealing with collections which cannot have been 
completed at one given time, but developed in the 
course of history. The recognition of this fact can 
be derived especially from a careful observation of 
the manner of J, since J furnishes us the greatest 
amount of material in Genesis. The observation of 
the younger critics that several sources can be dis- 
tinguished in J, and especially in the story of the 
beginnings, approves itself to us also; but we must 
push these investigations further and deeper by sub- 
stituting for a predominantly critical examination 
which deals chiefly with individual books, an his- 
torical study based upon the examination of the 


literary method of J and aiming to give a history of 
the entire literary species. 


In J's story of the beginnings we distinguish three 
sources, two of which present what were originally 
independent parallel threads. It is particularly 
clear that J contained originally two parallel pedi- 
grees of the race: beside the traditional Cainite 
genealogy, a Sethite line, of which v. 29 is a frag- 
ment. In combining the two earlier sources a third 
one was also introduced, from which comes the 
legend of Cain and Abel, which cannot originally 
belong to a primitive time. In the story of Abra- 
ham also we can recognise three hands; into a cycle 
of legends treating the destinies of Abraham and 
Lot have been introduced other elements, such as 
the legend of Abraham in Egypt and the flight of 
Hagar, probably from another book of legends; still 
a third hand has added certain details, such as the 
appeal of Abraham for Sodom. More complicated 
is the composition of the stories of Jacob: into the 
cycle of Jacob, Esau and Laban have been injected 
certain legends of worship; afterwards there were 
added legends of the various sons of Jacob; we are 
able to survey this process as a whole very well, but 
are no longer able to detect the individual hands. 

While the individual stories of the creation 
merely stand in loose juxtaposition, some of the 
Abraham stories and especially the Jacob-Esau- 
Laban legends are woven into a closer unity. This 
union is still closer in the legend of Joseph. Here 
the legends of Joseph's experiences in Egypt and 
with his brothers constitute a well-constructed com- 


position; but here too the passage on Joseph's agra- 
rian policy (xlvii. 13 £f.), which interrupts the con- 
nexion, shows that several different hands have been 
at work. Furthermore, it is quite plain that the 
legend of Tamar, which has no connexion with 
Joseph, and the "blessing of Jacob," which is a 
poem, not a legend, were not introduced until later. 

From this survey we perceive that J is not a 
primary and definitive collection, but is based upon 
older collections and is the result of the collabora- 
tion of several hands. 

The same condition is to be recognised in E, 
though only by slight evidences so far as Genesis is 
concerned, as in the present separation by the story 
of Ishmael (xxi. 8 ff. ) of the two legends of Gerar 
(xx., xxi., 25 ff.) which belong together, or in the 
derivation of Beersheba from Abraham (xxi. 25 ff. ) 
by the one line of narrative, from Isaac (xlvi. I-3) 
by the other. 


The history of the literary collection presents, 
then, a very complex picture, and we may be sure 
that we are able to take in but a small portion of it. 
In olden times there may have been a whole litera- 
ture of such collections, of which those preserved to 
us are but the fragments, just as the three synoptic 
gospels represent the remains of a whole gospel 
literature. The correctness of this view is supported 
by a reconstruction of the source of P, which is 
related to J in many respects (both containing, for 
instance, a story of the beginnings), but also cor- 
responds with E at times (as in the name Paddan, 
attached to the characterisation of Laban as "the 


Aramsean"; cp. the Commentary, p. 349), and also 
contributes in details entirely new traditions (such 
as the item that Abraham set out from Ur-Kasdim, 
the narrative of the purchase of the cave of Mach- 
pelah, and other matters). 

But for the complete picture of the history of the 
formation of the collection the most important obser- 
vation is that with which this section began: the 
whole process began in the stage of oral tradition. 
The first hands which wrote down legends probably 
recorded such connected stories; others then added 
new legends, and thus the whole body of material 
gradually accumulated. And thus, along with 
others, our collections J and E arose. J and E, 
then, are not individual authors, nor are they edi- 
tors of older and consistent single writings, but 
rather they are schools of narrators. From this 
point of view it is a matter of comparative indiffer- 
ence what the individual hands contributed to the 
whole, because they have very little distinction 
and individuality, and we shall probably never 
ascertain with certainty. Hence we feel constrained 
to abstain as a matter of principle from construct- 
ing a hypothesis on the subject. 


These collectors, then, are not masters, but rather 
servants of their subjects. We may imagine them, 
filled with reverence for the beautiful ancient stories 
and endeavoring to reproduce them as well and 
faithfully as they could. Fidelity was their prime 
quality. This explains why they accepted so many 
things which they but half understood and which 
were alien to their own taste and feeling; and why 


they faithfully preserved many peculiarities of 
individual narratives, — thus the narrative of the 
wooing of Rebeccah does not give the name of the 
city of Haran, while other passages in J are familiar 
with it (xxvii. 43; xxviii. 10; xxix. 4). On the 
other hand, we may imagine that they were secretly 
offended by many things in the tradition, here and 
there combined different versions (^Commentary, p. 
428), smoothing away the contradictions between 
them a little (^Commentary, p. 332) and leaving out 
some older feature in order to introduce something 
new and different, perhaps the piece of a variant 
familiar to them (^Commentary, p. 59); that they 
developed more clearly this motive and that, which 
happened to please them particularly, and even 
occasionally reshaped a sort of history by the com- 
bination of various traditions (^Com.mentary, p. 343), 
and furthermore that they were influenced by the 
religious, ethical, and aesthetic opinions of their 
time to make changes here and there. 

The process of remodeling the legends, which 
had been under way for so long, went farther in 
their hands. As to details, it is difficult, and for 
the most part impossible, to say what portion of 
these alterations belongs to the period of oral tra- 
dition and what portion to the collectors or to a 
later time. In the preceding pages many altera- 
tions have been discussed which belong to the 
period of written tradition. In general we are dis- 
posed to say that the oral tradition is responsible 
for a certain artistic inner modification, and the col- 
lectors for a more superficial alteration consisting 
merely of omissions and additions. Moreover, the 
chief point of interest is not found in this question; 


it will always remain the capital matter to under- 
stand the inner reasons for the modifications. 

It is also probable that some portions of consider- 
able size were omitted or severely altered under the 
hands of the collectors; thus the legend of Hebron, 
as the promise (xviii. lo) clearly shows, presumes 
a continuation; some portions have been omitted 
from the tradition as we have it, probably by a 
collector; other considerable portions have been 
added after the whole was reduced to writing, for 
instance, those genealogies which are not remnants 
of legends, but mere outlines of ethnographic rela- 
tionships; furthermore a piece such as the conversa- 
tion of Abraham with God before Sodom, which by 
its style is of the very latest origin, and other cases 
of this sort. Moreover a great, primitive poem was 
added to the legends after they were complete 
(Genesis xlix). 

We cannot get a complete general view of the 
changes made by these collections, but despite the 
fidelity of the collectors in details we may assume 
that the whole impression made by the legends has 
been very considerably altered by the collection 
and redaction they have undergone. Especially 
probable is it that the brilliant colors of the indi- 
vidual legends have been dulled in the process: 
what were originally prominent features of the 
legends lose their importance in the combination 
with other stories (^Commentary, p. i6i); the vary- 
ing moods of the separate legends are reconciled 
and harmonised when they come into juxtaposition; 
jests, perhaps, now filled in with touches of emotion 
(P- 33O1 or combined with serious stories {^Com- 
mentary, p. 158), cease to be recognised as mirthful; 


the ecclesiastical tone of certain legends becomes 
the all-pervading tone of the whole to the feeling 
of later times. Thus the legends now make the 
impression of an old and originally many-colored 
painting that has been many times re-touched and 
has grown dark with age. Finally, it must be 
emphasised that this fidelity of the collectors is 
especially evident in Genesis; in the later legends, 
which had not such a firm hold upon the popular 
taste, the revision may have been more thorough- 


The two schools of J and E are very closely 
related; their whole attitude marks them as belong- 
ing to essentially the same period. From the 
material which they have transmitted it is natural 
that the collectors should have treated with especial 
sympathy the latest elements, that is, particularly 
those which were nearest to their own time and 
taste. The difference between them is found first 
in their use of language, the most significant feature 
of which is that J says Jahveh before the time of 
Moses, while E says Elohim. Besides this there 
are other elements: the tribal patriarch is called 
"Israel" by J after the episode of Penuel, but 
"Jacob" by E; J calls the maid-servant "|ipha, E 
calls her " 'ama," J calls the grainsack "saq," E 
calls it " 'amtahat," and so on. But, as is often 
the case, such a use of language is not here an evi- 
dence of a single author, but rather the mark of a 
district or region. 

In very many cases we are unable to distinguish 
the two sources by the vocabulary; then the only 


guide is, that the variants from the two sources 
present essentially the same stories, which show 
individual differences in their contents. Thus in J 
Isaac is deceived by Jacob by means of the smell of 
Esau's garments, in E by the skins, a difference 
which runs through a great portion of both stories. 
Or, we observe that different stories have certain 
pervading marks, such as, that Joseph is sold in J 
by Ishmaelites to an Egyptian householder, but in 
E is sold by Midianites to the eunuch Potiphar 
Often evidences of this sort are far from con- 
clusive; consequently we can give in such cases 
nothing but conjectures as to the separation of the 
sources. And where even such indications are 
lacking there is an end of all safe distinction. 

In the account of the beginnings we cannot recog- 
nise the hand of E at all; it is probable that he did 
not undertake to give it, but began his book with 
the patriarch Abraham. Perhaps there is in this 
an expression of the opinion of the school that the 
history of the beginnings was too heathenish to 
deserve preservation. Often but not always the 
version of J has an older form than that of E. J 
has the most lively, objective narratives, while E, 
on the other hand, has a series of sentimental, tear- 
ful stories, such as the sacrifice of Isaac, the expul- 
sion of Ishmael, and Jacob's tenderness for his 

Their difference is especially striking in their 
conceptions of the theophany: J is characterised by 
the most primitive theophanies, E, on the other 
hand* by dreams and the calling of an angel out of 
heaven, in a word by the least sensual sorts of 
revelation. The thought of divine Providence, 


which makes even sin contribute to good ends is 
expressly put forth by E in the story of Joseph, 
but not by J. Accordingly there is reason for 
regarding J as older than E, as is now frequently 
done. Their relation to the Prophetic authors is to 
be treated in subsequent pages. 

Inasmuch as J in the story of Joseph puts Judah 
in the place of Reuben, since he gives a specifically 
Judean version in the case of the legend of Tamar, 
and because he has so much to say of Abraham, 
who, it seems, has his real seats in Hebron and in 
Negeb (southward of Judah), we may agree with 
many recent critics in placing the home of this col- 
lection in Judah. It has been conjectured on the 
contrary that E has its home in Northern Israel; in 
fact this source speaks a great deal of Northern 
Israelitic localities, but yet, at the same time, much 
of Beersheba; furthermore, in the story of Joseph 
E hints once incidentally at the reign of Joseph 
(xxxvii. 8), though this too may be derived from 
the tradition. Certainly it cannot be claimed that 
the two collections have any strong partizan ten- 
dency in favor of the north and south kingdoms 

Other characteristics of the collectors than these 
can scarcely be derived from Genesis. Of course, 
it would be easy to paint a concrete picture of 
J and E, if we venture to attribute to them what- 
ever is to be found in their books. But this is 
forbidden by the very character of these men as 

'If the reader cannot be satisfied with the little that we 
have given, he must at least be very much more cautious than, 
for instance, such a writer as Holzinger on the Hexateuch. 



The question of the absolute age of J and E is 
exceedingly difficult. We, who believe that we 
have here to deal with a gradual codification of 
ancient traditions, are constrained to resolve this 
question into a number of subordinate questions: 
When did these traditions arise? When did they 
become known in Israel? When did they receive 
essentially their present form? When were they 
written down? That is to say, our task is not to 
fix a single definite date; but we are to make a 
chronological scale for a long process. But this is 
a very difficult problem, for intellectual processes 
are very difficult in general to fix chronologically; 
and there is the further difficulty that blocks us in 
general with all such questions about the Old Tes- 
tament, that we know too little about ancient Israel 
in order to warrant positive conclusions in the pres- 
ent case. Very many of the chronological conjec- 
tures of literary criticism, in so far as they are based 
only upon the study of the history of religion, are 
more or less unsafe. 

The origin of many of the legends lies in what is 
for Israel a prehistoric age. Even the laconic 
style of the legends is primitive; the stories of the 
"Judges" are already in a more detailed style. 
After the entrance of Israel into Canaan foreign 
themes come in in streams. Very many of the 
legends presuppose the possession of the land and 
a knowledge of its localities. Among the Israelitish 
subjects, the genealogy of the twelve sons of Jacob 
does not correspond with the seats of the tribes in 
Canaan, and must, therefore, represent older rela- 
tions. The latest of the Israelitish legends of Gen- 


esis that we know treat the retirement of Reuben, 
the origin of the families of Judah and the assault 
upon Shechem, that is, events from the earlier por- 
tion of the period of the "Judges. V In the later 
portion of this period the poetic treatment of races 
as individuals was no longer current: by this time 
new legends of the patriarchs had ceased to be 

The period of the formation of legends of the 
patriarchs is, then, closed with this date (about 
1200). The correctness of this estimate is confirmed 
by other considerations: the sanctuary at Jerusalem, 
so famous in the time of kings, is not referred to in 
the legends of the patriarchs; on the contrary the 
establishment of this sanctuary is placed by the 
legends of worship in the time of David (2 Sam. 
xxiv. ). The reign of Saul, the conflict of Saul 
with David, the united kingdom under David and 
Solomon, the separation of the two kingdoms and 
the war between them, — we hear no echoes of all 
this in the older legends; a clear proof that no 
new legends of the patriarchs were being formed at 
that tirne. At what time the legends of Moses, 
Joshua and others originated is a question for dis- 
cussion elsewhere. 


The period of the formation of the legends is fol- 
lowed by one of re-modeling. This is essentially 
the age of the earlier kings. That is probably the 
time when Israel was again gathered together from 
its separation into different tribes and districts to 
one united people, the time when the various dis- 
tinct traditions grew together into a common body 


of national legends. The great growth which Israel 
experienced under the first kings probably yielded 
it the moral force to lay claim to the foreign tales 
and give them a national application. At this time 
the Jacob-Esau legend received its interpretation 
referring to Israel and Edom: Israel has in the 
meantime subjected Edom, the event occurring 
under David, and Judah retaining her possession 
until about 840. Meanwhile Ephraim has out- 
stripped Manasseh, probably in the beginning of 
the period of the kings. In the legend of Joseph 
there occurs an allusion to the dominion of Joseph 
(xxxvii. 8, E), which, however, found its way into 
the legend at some later time. The dreadful Syrian 
wars, which begin about the year goo, are not yet 
mentioned in the Jacob-Laban legend, but only 
occasional border forays. The city of Asshur, 
which was the capital until 1300, has passed from the 
memory of the Hebrew tradition; but Nineveh (x. 
11), the capital from about looo on, seems to be 
known to it. Accordingly we may at least assume 
that by 900 B.C. the legends were essentially, so far 
as the course of the narrative goes, as we now read 

As for allusions to political occurrences later than 
900, we have only a reference to the rebellion of 
Edom (about 840), which, however, is plainly an 
addition to the legend (xxvii. 40b). The other 
cases that are cited are inconclusive: the reference 
to the Assyrian cities (x. 11 ff.) does not prove 
that these passages come from the "Assyrian" 
period, for Assyria had certainly been known to the 
Israelites for a long time; just as little does the 
mention of Kelah warrant a conclusion, for the 


city was restored in 870, though it had been the 
capital since about 1300 (in both of these points I 
differ from the conclusions of Cornill, Einleitung 
in das Alte Testament' p. 46). According to 
Lagarde, Mitteilungen, III., p. 226 ff., the Egyptian 
names in Genesis xli. bring us down into the 
seventh century; but this is by no means positive, 
for the names which were frequently heard at that 
time had certainly been known in earlier times. 

But even though no new political references crept 
into the legends after about 900, and though they 
have remained unchanged in their essentials from 
this time on, they may nevertheless have undergone 
many internal alterations. This suggests a com- 
parison with a piece like Genesis xlix.: this piece, 
coming from the time of David, harmonises in tone 
with the oldest legends. Hence we may assume 
another considerable period during which the reli- 
gious and moral changes in the legends above men- 
tioned were taking place. This period lasts over 
into that of the collection of the legends and is 
closed by it. 


When did the collection of the legends take 
place? This question is particularly difficult, for 
we have only internal data for its solution, and we 
can establish these in their turn only after estab- 
lishing the date of the sources. So unfortunately we 
are moving here in the familiar circle, and with no 
present prospect of getting out of it. Investigators 
must consider this before making unqualified 
declarations on the subject. Furthermore it is to 
be borne in mind that not even these collections 


were completed all at once, but grew into shape 
through a process which lasted no one can say how 
many decades or centuries. The real question in 
fixing the date of the sources is the relation of the 
two to the authors of the "Prophets." Now there 
are, to be sure, many things in Genesis that suggest 
a relation with these Prophets, but the assumption 
of many modern critics that this relation must be 
due to some direct influence of the Prophetic writ- 
ers is very doubtful in many cases; we do not know 
the religion of Israel sufficiently well to be able to 
declare that certain thoughts and sentiments were 
first brought to light by the very Prophets whose 
writings we possess (all later than Amos): the 
earnestness with which the legend of the Deluge 
speaks of the universal sinfulness of mankind, and 
the glorification of the faith of Abraham are not 
specifically "Prophetic." The hostility of the 
collectors to the images of Jahveh and to the 
Asherim (sacred poles), of which they never speak, 
to the Massebah (obelisks), which J passes over but 
E still mentions, to the "golden calf which is 
regarded by the legend according to E (Exodus 
xxxii.) as sinful, as well as to the teraphim, which 
the Jacob-Laban legend wittily ridicules (xxxi. 30 
f. ), — all of this may easily be independent of 
"Prophetic" influence. Sentiments of this nature 
may well have existed in Israel long before the 
"Prophets," indeed we must assume their existence 
in order to account for the appearance of the 

True, E calls Abraham a nabi (prophet), xx. 7; 
that is to say, he lived at a time when "Prophet" 
and "man of God" were identical; but the guild 


of the N*biim was flourishing long before the time 
of Amos, and in Hosea also, xii. 14, Moses is 
called a "Prophet." Accordingly there is nothing 
in the way of regarding E and J both as on the 
whole "pre-Prophetic." This conclusion is sup- 
ported by a number of considerations: the Prophetic 
authors are characterised by their predictions of 
the destruction of Israel, by their polemic against 
alien gods and against the high places of Israel, 
and by their rejection of sacrifices and ceremonials. 
These very characteristic features of the "Prophets" 
are absent in J and E in Genesis, J has no notion 
of other gods at all except Jahveh, and Jacob's 
abolition of alien gods for the sake of a sacred 
ceremony in honor of Jahveh, xxxv. 4 in the tra- 
dition of E, does not sound like a "Prophetic" 
utterance. Of an opposition to strange gods there 
is never any talk, at least not in Genesis. 

And while these collections contain nothing that 
is characteristically Prophetic, they have on the 
other hand much that must needs have been exceed- 
ingly offensive to the Prophets: they have, for 
instance, an especially favorable attitude toward 
the sacred places which the Prophets assail so bit- 
terly; they maintain toward the primitive reli- 
gion and morality a simple leniency which is the 
very opposite of the fearful accusations of the 

We can see from the Prophetic redaction of the 
historical books what was the attitude of the legiti- 
mate pupils of the Prophets toward ancient tradi- 
tion: they would certainly not have cultivated the 
popular legends, which contained so much that was 
heathen, but rather have obliterated them. 


In view of these considerations we must conclude 
that the collections took shape in all essentials 
before the period of great Prophetic writings, and 
that the touches of the spirit of this movement in J 
and E but show that the thoughts of the Prophets 
were in many a man's mind long before the time of 
Amos. This conclusion is supported by a num- 
ber of other considerations: the legend of the 
exodus of Abraham, which glorifies his faith, pre- 
sumes on the other hand the most flourishing pros- 
perity of Israel, and accordingly comes most surely 
from the time before the great incursion of the 
Assyrians. And pieces which from the point of 
view of the history of legends are so late as chapter 
15, or as the story of the birth of the sons of Jacob, 
contain, on the other hand, very ancient religious 

But this does not exclude the possibility that cer- 
tain of the very latest portions of the collections are 
in the true sense "Prophetic." Thus Abraham's 
conversation with God before Sodom is in its con- 
tent the treatment of a religious problem, but in 
form it is an imitation of the Prophetic "expostula- 
tion" with God. Joshua's farewell (Joshua xxiv.) 
with its unconcealed distrust of Israel's fidelity is 
also in form an imitation of the Prophetic sermon. 
In the succeeding books, especially the portions due 
to E, there is probably more of the same character, 
but in Genesis the instances are rare. 

Accordingly we may locate both collections before 
the appearance of the great Prophets, J perhaps in 
the ninth century and E in the first half of the 
eighth; but it must be emphasized that such dates 
are after all very uncertain. 



The two collections were united later by an editor 
designated as R™, whom, following Wellhausen's 
example, we shall call the "Jehovist." This union 
of the two older sources took place before the addi- 
tion of the later book of legends to be referred to as 
P. We may place this collector somewhere near 
the end of the kingdom of Judah. R''^ manifests 
in Genesis the most extraordinary conservatism and 
reverence; he has expended a great amount of keen- 
ness in trying to retain both sources so far as pos- 
sible and to establish the utmost possible harmony 
between them. In general he probably took the 
more detailed source for his basis, in the story of 
Abraham J. He himself appears with his own lan- 
guage very little in Genesis. We recognise his pen 
with certainty in a few brief additions which are 
intended to harmonise the variants of J and E, but 
of which there are relatively few: xvi. 9 f. ; xxviii. 
2ib, and further in xxxi. 49 ff. ; xxxix. i; xli. 50; 
xlv. 19; xlvi. i; 1. 11; and several points in xxxiv; 
but the most of these instances are trifles. 

Furthermore, there are certain, mostly rather 
brief, additions, which we may locate in this period 
and probably attribute to this redactor or to his con- 
temporaries. Some of them merely run over and 
deepen the delicate lines of the original text: xviii. 
17-19; XX. 18; xxii. 15-18; some are priestly elabo- 
rations of profane narratives: xiii. 14-17; xxxii. 
10-13; the most of them are speeches attributed to 
God; xiii. 14-17; xvi. 9 and 10; xviii. 17-19; xxii. 
15-18; xxvi. 3b-5, 24, 25^; xxviii. 14; xlvi. 3,:^ 
(xxxii. 10-13; 1. 247); which is characteristic for 


these latest additions, which profess only to give 
thoughts and not stories, speeches containing espe- 
cially solemn promises for Israel: that it was to 
become a mighty nation and take possession of "all 
these lands." Incidentally all the people are 
enumerated which Israel is to conquer: xv. 19-21; x. 
16-18. These additions come from the period 
when the great world crises were threatening the 
existence of Israel, and when the faith of the people 
was clinging to these promises, that is to say, prob- 
ably from the Chaldasan period. Here and there 
we meet a trace of "Deuteronomistic" style: xviii. 
17-19; xxvi. 31,-5. 



BESIDES those already treated we find evidence 
of another separate stream of tradition. This 
source is so distinct from the other sources both in 
style and spirit that in the great majority of cases it 
can be separated from them to the very letter. This 
collection also is not limited to Genesis; on the con- 
trary, the legends of the beginnings and of the 
patriarchs are to it merely a brief preparation for the 
capital matter, which is the legislation of Moses. 
The Priestly Codex is of special importance for us 
because the entire discussion of the Old Testament 
has hitherto turned essentially upon its data. It is 
Wellhausen's immortal merit (Prolegomena,^ p. 299 
ff.) to have recognised the true character of this 
source, which had previously been considered the 
oldest, to have demonstrated thus the incorrectness 
of the entire general view of the Old Testament, 
and thus to have prepared the field for a living and 
truly historical understanding of the history of the 
religion of Israel. 

The style of P is extremely peculiar, exceedingly 
detailed and aiming at legal clearness and minute- 
ness, having always the same expressions and for- 
mulae, with precise definitions and monotonous set 
phrases with consistently employed outlines which 



lack substance, with genealogies and with titles 
over every chapter. It is the tone of prosaic 
pedantry, often indeed the very style of the legal 
document (for instance xi. ii; and xxiii. 17, 18); 
occasionally, however, it is not without a certain 
solemn dignity (especially in Genesis i. and else- 
where also, cp. the scene xlvii. 7-1 1). One must 
really read the whole material of P consecutively in 
order to appreciate the dryness and monotony of 
this remarkable book. The author is evidently 
painfully exact and exemplary in his love of order, 
but appreciation of poetry was denied him as to 
many another scholar. 

The selection of material both in large and in 
small matters is highly characteristic in P. The 
only stories of any length which he gives us are those 
of the Creation and the Deluge, of God's appear- 
ance to Abraham and of the purchase of the cave at 
Machpelah; all else is details and genealogies. 
From by far the greatest number of narratives he 
found use only for separate and disconnected obser- 
vations. One has only to compare the ancient 
variegated and poetic legends and the scanty reports 
which P gives of them, in order to learn where his 
interests lie: he does not purpose to furnish a poetic 
narrative, as those of old had done, but only to 
arrive at the facts. This is why he was unable to 
use the many individual traits contained in the old 
legends, but merely took from them a very few 
facts. He ignored the sentiments of the legends, 
he did not see the personal life of the patriarchs; 
their figures, once so concrete, have become mere 
pale types when seen through his medium. In 
times of old many of these legends had been located 


in definite places, thereby gaining life and color; P 
has forgotten all but two places: the cave of Mach- 
pelah, where the patriarchs dwelt and lie buried, and 
Bethel, where God revealed himself to Jacob. On 
the other hand, he has a great predilection for 
genealogies, which, as we have seen, were the latest 
elements to be contributed to the accumulation of 
the legend, and which are in their very nature 
unconcrete and unpoetical. A very large portion 
of P's share in Genesis is genealogy and nothing 

Even those narratives which are told by P at 
length manifest this same lack of color. They are 
narratives that are not really stories. The account 
of the purchase of the cave of Machpelah might 
have been nothing but an incidental remark in one 
of the older story-tellers; P has spun it out at length 
because he wanted to establish as beyond all doubt 
the fact that the cave really belonged to the patriarchs 
and was an ancestral sepulcher. But he had not the 
poetic power necessary to shape the account into a 
story. In the great affairs of state which P gives 
instead of the old stories, story-telling has ceased, 
there is only talking and negotiating (Wellhausen). 
Even the accounts of the Creation, the Deluge 
and the Covenant with Abraham manifest a wide 
contrast with the vivid colors of the older legends; 
they lack greatly in the concrete elements of a 
story. Instead of this P gives in them something 
else, something altogether alien to the spirit of the 
early legend, to wit, legal ordinances, and these in 
circumstantial detail. Another characteristic of P 
is his pronounced liking for outlines; this order-lov- 
ing man has ensnared the gay legends of the olden 


time in his gray outlines, and there they have lost 
all their poetic freshness: take as an illustration the 
genealogy of Adam and Seth. Even the stories of 
the patriarchs have been caged by P in an outline. 


Furthermore P attaches to the legends a detailed 
chronology, which plays a great role in his account, 
but is absolutely out of keeping with the simplicity 
of the old legends. Chronology belongs by its very 
nature to history, not to legend. Where historical 
narrative and legend exist as living literary species, 
they are recognised as distinct, even though uncon- 
sciously. This confusion of the two species in P 
shows that in his time the natural appreciation for 
both history and legend had been lost. Accord- 
ingly it is not strange that the chronology of P dis- 
plays everywhere the most absurd oddities when 
injected into the old legends: as a result, Sarah is 
still at sixty-five a beautiful woman whom the 
Egyptians seek to capture, and Ishmael is carried 
on his mother's shoulder after he is a youth of six- 

There has been added a great division of the 
world's history into periods, which P forces upon 
the whole matter of his account. He recognises 
four periods: from the creation to Noah, from 
Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, and 
from Moses on. Each of these periods begins 
with a theophany, and twice a new name for God 
is introduced. He who is Elohim at the crea- 
tion is El Shaddai in connexion with Abraham and 
Jahveh to Moses. At the establishment of the 
Covenant certain divine ordinances are proclaimed: 


first, that men and beasts are to eat only herbs, and 
then, after the Deluge, that flesh may be eaten but 
no men be slain, and then, especially for Abraham, 
that he and his descendants shall circumcise them- 
selves; finally, the Mosaic law. 

In connexion with these, certain definite divine 
promises are made and signs of the Covenant given. 
What we find in this is the product of a great and 
universal mind, the beginning of a universal history 
in the grand style, and indeed P shows a genuinely 
scientific mind in other points: consider, for 
instance, his precision in the order of creation in 
Genesis i. and his definitions there. But the 
material of the legends which this grandiose uni- 
versal history uses stands in very strong contrast 
with the history itself: the signs of the Covenant 
are a rainbow, circumcision and the Sabbath, a very 
remarkable list! And how remote is this spirit of 
universal history, which even undertakes to esti- 
mate the duration of the entire age of the world, 
from the spirit of the old legend, which originally 
consists of only a single story that is never able to 
rise to the height of such general observations: in J, 
for instance, we hear nothing of the relation of 
Abraham's religion to that of his fathers and his 
tribal kinsmen. 


Furthermore, we cannot deny that this reflexion 
of P's, that Jahveh first revealed himself in quite a 
general form as "God," and then in a concreter 
form as El Shaddai, and only at the last under his 
real name, is, after all, very childish: the real his- 
tory of religion does not begin with the general and 


then pass to the concrete, but on the contrary, it 
begins with the very most concrete conceptions, and 
only slowly and gradually do men learn to compre- 
hend what is abstract. 

It is characteristic of the religion of the author 
P that he says almost nothing about the personal 
piety of the patriarchs; he regards only the objec- 
tive as important in religion. For instance, he says 
nothing about Abraham's obedience on faith; indeed 
does not hesitate to report that Abraham laughed at 
God's promise (xvii. 17). The religion that he 
knows consists in the prescription of ceremonies; 
he regards it of importance that the Sabbath shall 
be observed, that circumcision shall be practised, 
that certain things shall be eaten and others not. 
In such matters he is very scrupulous. He abstains, 
evidently with deliberation, from telling that the 
patriarchs offered sacrifice in any certain place, and 
this evidently for the reason that these places were 
regarded as heathenish in his time. Similarly, in 
his account of the Deluge, he does not distinguish 
the clean and the unclean beasts. It is his opinion 
that established worship and the distinction of clean 
and unclean were not introduced until the time of 

But in this we hear the voice of a priest of Jeru- 
salem, whose theory is that the worship at his sanc- 
tuary is the only legitimate worship and the 
continuation of the worship instituted by Moses. 
The Israelitish theocracy— this, in modern phrase, 
is the foundation thought of his work — is the pur- 
pose of the world. God created the world in order 
that his ordinances and commandments might be 
observed in the temple at Jerusalem. 


The theophanies of P are characterised by their 
inconcreteness; he tells only that God appeared, 
spoke, and again ascended, and leaves out every- 
thing else. In this, then, he follows the style of the 
latest additions to JE, which also contain such 
speeches attributed to God without any introduc- 
tion. It is evident that in this there is expressed a 
religious hesitation on the part of P to involve the 
supermundane God with the things of this world; 
it seems as though he suspected the heathen origin 
of these theophanies. At the same time we per- 
ceive what his positive interest is: he cares for the 
content of the divine revelation, but not for its 
"How." Moreover, it is no accident that he con- 
ceives of these speeches of God as "covenant-mak- 
ing": evidently he has in mind this originally legal 
form. This union of the priest, the scholar, and 
the distinctive lawyer, which seems to us perhaps 
remarkable at first, is after all quite natural: among 
many ancient races the priesthood was the guardian 
of learning and especially of the law. And thus it 
surely was in Israel too, where from primitive times 
the priests were accustomed to settle difficult dis- 
putes. P developed his style in the writing of con- 
tracts — this is quite evident in many places. 

But it is especially characteristic of P that he no 
longer refers to the sacred symbols, which had once 
possessed such great importance for the ancient 
religion, as may be seen particularly in the legends 
of the patriarchs; in him we no longer find a refer- 
ence to the monuments, the trees and groves, and 
the springs at which, according to the ancient 
legends, the divinity appeared. P has expunged 
all such matter from the legend, evidently because 


he considered it heathenish. Here we see plainly 
the after-effects of the fearful polemics of the 
Prophets: it is the same spirit which branded the 
ancient sacred place of Bethel as heathen (in the 
"reform" of Josiah) and which here rejects from the 
ancient legends everything that smacks of heathen- 
ism to these children of a later time. 

This much, then, is certain, that the conceptions 
of God in P are loftier and more advanced than 
those of the old legends; and yet P is far below 
these older authors, who had not made the acquaint- 
ance of the sacerdotalism of Jerusalem, but who did 
know what piety is. Just as P purified the religion 
of the patriarchs, so did he also purge their 
morality. Here, too, P adds the last word to a 
development which we have followed up in J and E. 
The old legends of the patriarchs, being an expres- 
sion of the most primitive life of the people, con- 
tained a great deal that those of a later time could 
not but regard as wrong and sinful, if they were 
quite honest about it. 

And yet, the belief of the time was that the 
patriarchs were models of piety and virtue. What 
pains had been taken to eliminate at least the most 
offensive things in this line so far as possible! 
When it comes to P at last, he makes a clean sweep: 
he simply omits altogether what is offensive (for 
instance, the quarrel of the shepherds of Abraham 
and Lot, Lot's selfishness, the exile of Ishmael, 
Jacob's deceptions); he even goes to the length of 
maintaining the precise contrary to the tradition: 
Ishmael and Isaac together peacefully buried their 
father (xxv. 9), and so did Jacob and Esau (xxxv. 
29). Facts which cannot be obliterated receive a 


different motivation: thus he explains Isaac's bless- 
ing of Jacob as a result of Esau's sinful mixed mar- 
riages (xxvi. 34 f.; xxviii. i ff.), and he lays the 
crime against Joseph at the door of the sons of 
Bilhah and Zilpah (xxxvii. 2). 

From all of this it appears clear that P dealt very 
arbitrarily with the tradition as it came down to him. 
He dropped old versions or changed them at pleas- 
ure; mere incidents he spun out to complete 
stories, and from whole stories he adopted only inci- 
dents; he mingled the motives of various legends, 
declaring, for instance, that the blessing received by 
Jacob from Isaac was the blessing of Abraham, 
which had been entirely foreign to the thought of 
the old story-tellers (xxviii. 4; other instances may 
be found pp. 237, 247, 350 of the Commentary); 
from the stories of the old tradition, which stood in 
loose juxtaposition, he formed a continuous nar- 
rative with close connexion, — this, too, a mark of 
the latest period. In place of the legends he placed 
his chapters with regular headings! 

This narrator, then, has no conception of the 
fidelity of the older authors; he probably had an 
impression that it was necessary to lay on vigorously 
in order to erect a structure worthy of God. The 
older authors, J and E, were really not authors, but 
merely collectors, while P is a genuine author; the 
former merely accumulated the stone left to them 
in a loose heap; but P erected a symmetrical struc- 
ture in accordance with his own taste. And yet we 
should be wrong if we should assume that he 
deliberately invented his allegations in Genesis; 
tradition was too strong to permit even him to do 
this. On the contrary, he simply worked over the 


material, though very vigorously indeed; we can 
often recognise by details how he followed his 
source in the general outline of events when no per- 
sonal interest of his own was involved (see p. 139 of 
the Commentary). But this source, at least for 
Genesis, was neither J nor E but one related to 


After this portrayal of the situation the age of P 
is evident. It belongs by every evidence at the 
close of the whole history of the tradition, and cer- 
tainly separated by a great gap from J and E: the 
living stream of legend from which J and E, the old 
collectors, had dipped, must by that time have run 
dry, if it had become possible for P to abuse it in 
this fashion for the construction of his history. 
And in the meanwhile a great intellectual revolution 
must have taken place, — a revolution which had 
created something altogether new in the place of 
the old nationality represented in the legends. 

P is the documentary witness of a time which was 
consciously moving away from the old traditions, 
and which believed it necessary to lay the founda- 
tions of religion in a way differing from that of the 
fathers. And in P we have revealed the nature of 
this new element which had then assumed sway, — it 
is the spirit of the learned priest that we here find 
expressed. Furthermore, this also is clear to us 
from the whole manner of P, and particularly from 
his formal language, that we have not here the work 
of an individual with a special tendency, but of a 
whole group whose convictions he expresses. P's 
work is nothing more nor less than an official 


It is the priesthood of Jerusalem with which the 
document P originated. Hence the applicableness 
of the designation "Priestly Codex." Wellhausen 
has revealed to us the time to which this spirit 
belonged. This is the epoch following the great 
catastrophe to the people and the state of Judah, 
when the people, overwhelmed by the tremendous 
impression of their measureless misfortune, recog- 
nised that their fathers had sinned, and that a great 
religious reformation was necessary. Only in con- 
nexion with this period can we comprehend P with 
his grandiose want of respect for what had been the 
most sacred traditions of his people. We know also 
well enough that it was the priesthood alone in that 
day which held its own and kept the people 
together after all other authorities had worn them- 
selves out or perished: after its restoration the con- 
gregation of Judah was under the dominion of 

In keeping with this period also is the remarkably 
developed historical scholarship of P. The older 
epoch had produced excellent story-tellers, but no 
learned historians; while in this period of exile 
Judaean historiography had lost its naive innocence. 
Under the powerful influence of the superior Baby- 
lonian civilisation Judaism also had acquired a taste 
for precise records of numbers and measures. It 
now grew accustomed to employ great care in 
statistical records: genealogical tables were copied, 
archives were searched for authentic documents, 
chronological computations were undertaken, and 
even universal history was cultivated after the 
Babylonian model. In Ezra and Nehemiah and 
Chronicles we see the same historical scholarship as 


in P, and in Ezekiel, Haggai, and Zechariah the same 
high value placed upon exact chronology. The 
reckoning of the months also, which is found in P, 
was learned by the Jews at this time, and probably 
from Babylonia. The progress represented by this 
learned spirit as compared with the simplicity of 
former times is undeniable, even though the prod- 
ucts of this learning often fail to appeal to us. It is 
probably characteristic of the beginnings of "uni- 
versal history" that such first great historical 
constructions as we have in P deal largely with myth- 
ical or legendary materials, and are consequently 
inadequate according to our modern notions. In 
this respect P may be compared to Berosus. 

The emphasis laid by P upon the Sabbath, the 
prohibition of bloodshed and circumcision, is also 
comprehensible to us in the light of this period: the 
epoch in which everything depended on the willing- 
ness of the individual emphasised the religious com- 
mandments which applied to the individual. Indeed 
it may be said, that the piety of the patriarchs, who 
are always represented as gerim. (strangers), and 
who have to get along without sacrifices and formal 
ceremonies, is a reflexion of the piety of the exile, 
when those who lived in the foreign land had 
neither temples nor sacrifices. 

P's religious criticism of mixed marriages also, 
especially those with Canaanitish women, whereby 
the blessing of Abraham was forfeited Txxviii. I-9) 
connect with the same time, when the Jews, living 
in the Dispersion, had no more zealous desire than 
to keep their blood and their religion pure. 

Much more characteristic than these evidences 
taken from Genesis are the others derived from the 


legal sections of the following books. Finally 
there is to be added to all these arguments the late 
origin of the style of P'. And in accordance with 
this the fixing of the date of P as coming from the 
time of the exile is one of the surest results of 

We need not attempt to determine here in just 
what century P wrote; but this much may be said, 
that the Law-book of Ezra, in the opinion of many 
scholars, upon which the congregation took the oath 
in 444, and in the composition of which Ezra was in 
some way involved, was P. Hence we may place 
the composition of the book in the period from 500 
to 444. P, too, was not completed all at once, 
though this is hardly a matter of importance so far 
as Genesis goes 


The final redactor, who combined the older work 
of JE and P, and designated as R™^, probably 
belongs, therefore, to the time after Ezra, and surely 
before the time of the separation of the Samaritan 
congregation, which carried the complete Pentateuch 
along with it — though we are unable, indeed, to give 
the exact date of this event. The fact that such a 
combination of the older and the later collections 
was necessary shows us that the old legends had 
been planted too deep in the popular heart to be 
supplanted by the new spirit. 

Great historical storms had in the meantime 
desecrated the old sacred places; the whole past 

'Wellhausen, Prolegomena, p;"393, ff. JRyssel, De elohistis 
ipantateuc^ci sermoneji \^-}i: GtfeSebreoht, Zyi fF, 1881, p. 
177 ff. \ix\ye:Vyrfimfn^(._iiif\J^Mlotilg% m^-.r p.! Pfli «•/, i Tvyi 


seemed to the men of the new time to be sinful. 
And yet the old legends which glorified these places 
and which gave such a naive reflexion of the olden 
time, could not be destroyed. The attempt of P to 
supplant the older tradition had proven a failure; 
accordingly a reverent hand produced a combina- 
tion of JE and P. 

This last collection was prepared with extraor- 
dinary fidelity, especially toward P; its author aimed 
if possible not to lose a single grain of P's work. 
We shall not blame him for preferring P to JE, for 
P never ceased to dominate Jewish taste. Espe- 
cially notable is the fact that the redactor applied 
the chronology of P as a framework for the narratives 
of J and E. In Genesis there are a very few features 
which we can trace with more or less certainty to 
his hand: such are a few harmonising comments or 
elaborations like x. 24; xv. 7, 8, 15; xxvii. 46; 
XXXV. 13, 14; and further some retouching in vi. 7; 
vii. 7, 22, 23; and also vii. 3a,, 8, 9; and finally the 
distinction between Abram and Abraham, Sarai and 
Sarah, which is also found in J and E, and some 
other matters. 

We have now covered the activities of all the 
various redactors of Genesis. But in smaller details 
the work on the text (Diaskeuase) continues for a 
long time. Smaller alterations are to be found in 
xxxiv. and in the numbers of the genealogies, in 
which the Jewish and the Samaritan text, and the 
Greek translation differ. More considerable altera- 
tions were made in xxxvi. and xlvi. 8-27; while the 
last large interpolation is the narrative of Abra- 
ham's victory over the four kings, a legend from 
very late times, and of "midrash" character. 



Thus Genesis has been compounded from very 
many sources. And in the last state we have 
described it has remained. In this form the old 
legends have exercised an incalculable influence 
upon all succeeding generations. We may perhaps 
regret that the last great genius who might have 
created out of the separate stories a great whole, a 
real "Israelitic national epic," never came. Israel 
produced no Homer. But this is fortunate for our 
investigation; for just because the individual por- 
tions have been left side by side and in the main 
unblended it is possible for us to make out the his- 
tory of the entire process. For this reason students 
of the legend should apply themselves to the inves- 
tigation of Genesis, which has not been customary 
hitherto; while theologians should learn that 
Genesis is not to be understood without the aid of 
the proper methods for the study of legends. 


One word more, in closing, as to how Genesis has 
obtained the undeserved honor of being regarded as 
a work of Moses. From primitive times there 
existed a tradition in Israel that the divine ordi- 
nances regarding worship, law and morality, as 
proclaimed by the mouth of the priests, were 
derived from Moses. When, then, these ordi- 
nances, which had originally circulated orally, were 
written down in larger or smaller works, it was 
natural that they passed under the name of Moses 
Now our Pentateuch consists, in addition to the col- 
lections of legends, of such books of law from various 
periods and of very diverse spirit. And because 


the legends also, from the time of the Exodus, have 
to do chiefly with Moses, it was very easy to com- 
bine both legends and laws in one single book. 
Thus it happened that Genesis has become the first 
part of a work whose following parts tell chiefly of 
Moses and contain many laws that claim to come 
from Moses. But in its contents Genesis has no 
connexion with Moses. These narratives, among 
them so many of a humorous, an artistic, or a senti- 
mental character, are very remote from the spirit of 
such a strenuous and wrathful Titan as Moses, 
according to the tradition, must have been. 


Abel, 49 et seq., 64 et seq., 91, 107. 

Abimelech, 20, 35, 63, 79, 115. 

Abraham, 5, g, 19 et seq., 33 et seq., 
42 et seq., 49 et seq., 60 et seq., 69 
et seq., 95, 107 et seq., 112 et seq., 
115 et seq., 120, 122, 128, 132, 134 et 
seq., 140, 142, 147, 152. 

Absalom, 10. 

Actions, thought expressed by, 60. 

Adam 60, 14S. 

Adonis, 121. 

Amalgamation, mode of, g6. 

Ammon, 19 et seq., 45. 

Amos, 85. 

Anthropomorphism, 8. 

Aramaic influences, 91 et seq. 

Ararat, 7. 

Arthurian poems, 38. 

Asshur (Assyria), ig, 119, 138. 

Babel, 14, 16, 17, 29, 44 et seq., 50 et 

seq., 77, go. 
Babylonian influences, go et seq., 155. 
Baucis, g4. 
Beersheba, 2g, 35, gg. 
Benjamin, 50, 83, 112, 121. 
Berosus, 156. 

Bethel, 31 et seq., 41, 92, 105. 
Budde, 125. 

Canaan, 55, 90, 

Cain, 14, 20 et seq., 29, 4g et seq., 65 
et seq.,gi et seq., 97, 107, iz8. 

Caution, needed in interpretation, 

Ceremonials, religious, 30. 

Characters in the Legends, descrip- 
tion of, 53. 

Chronological periods, four, 148. 

Chronology, exact, 156; importance 
attached to, 148. 

Circumcision, 31, 156. 

Codex, Priestly, 124 et seq., 145 et 
seq., 149 et seq., 154. 

Collection, process of, 129; its rela- 
tion to the prophets, 139 et seq. 

Collections, the later, 123 et seq. 

Collectors, their relation to their 
sources, 130. 

Connecticut, 28. 

Cornill, 139. 

Covenant, 85, 147, 148, 149. 

Creation; 17, 49, 74, 97, 146 et seq. 

David, 5, 138. 

Daniel, 100. 

Dead Sea, 7, 34. , 

Deborah, loi. 

Deluge, 7, 10, 15, 16, 17, 44, 50 et seq., 

76, go, 95, loset seq., no, 146 et seq. 
Deuteronomian Reformation, 107, 

Deuteronomy, 85. 
Dinah, 20, 35, 50 et seq., 93, 126. 
Divinity, its action in the primitive 

legends, 14; the sanctuary and, 105 

et seq. 
Driver, 157. 

Economy of details, 67 et seq. 
Eden, 44, 71, 49 et seq. 
Edom, rg, iig, 138. 
Egyptian influences, gi. 
Egyptian names in Genesis, 139. 
Elohist and Jahvist, 123 et seq.; col- 
lectors not alithors, 124 et seq.; re- 




lation of to one another, 133 ; age of 

the schools, 136 et seq. 
Enoch, 95. 
Ephraim, 21. 
Epic discursiveness, 82. 
Epic, Israelitic national, 159. 
Esau, 19 et seq., 42 et seq., 49 et seq., 

57 et seq., 63, 80 et seq., 91, 94, 95' 

114. 134, 152. 
Esther, 120. 
Etana, 121. 
Etymologies, in Genesis, 8; popular. 

28 ; subordinate features, 77. 
Euphrates, 7. 
Evangelical churches, 12. 
Eye-witness and reporter, 5. 
Ezra, Book of, 157. 

Flood. See Deluge. 
Foreign influences, 88. 

Gad, 119. 

Genesis, history or legend? i et seq.; 
not political history, 5 ; many things 
reported in the book which go di- 
rectly against our better knowl- 
edge, 7; its narratives mostly of a 
religious nature, 8 ; God in, 9, 13 et 
seq.; closely related to other cos- 
mogonies, 10; varieties of legends 
in,' 13 et seq. ; sources of, 23 ; prose 
in form, 36; a folk-book, 39; con- 
tents of, in primitive form, 40; real 
unit in, 42 ; no nature-love in, 67; 
Egyptian names in, 139; genealogy 
in, 147; compounded from very 
many sources, 159; how it came to 
be attributed to Moses, 159. 

Gerar, 20, 102, 126. 

Gibeah, 96. 

Gilead, 96, 127. 

Giesebrecht, 157. 

God, 64, 88; in Genesis, 9, 13 et seq.; 
His relation to man, 107 et seq.; not 
merely a tribal God, 109. 

Goldziher, Z2i. 

Greek parallels, 93. 

Ham, 20 et seq. 

Ilagar, 19, 34, 42 et seq., 49 et seq., 6z 

et seq., 7oetseq., 79, 103, Z05, 112 et 

seq., Z16, 126. 
Hebron, 45, 79 et seq., 95, 105, 132. 
Helal, 15. 
Hippolytus, 94. 
Hirah, 53. 

Historiography, Judaean; 155. 
History, the writing of, i et seq. 
History and legend, criteria for, 3 et 

Holzinger, 135. 
Homer, 84, 159. 
Hyrieus, 93. 

Images, hostility to, 140, 

Incredibility, the criterion of, 7. 

Interest, different spheres of, in leg- 
end and history, 4. 

Isaac, II, 42 et seq., 49 et seq., 58 et 
seq , 73 et seq., 95, 106, iii, 116, 134, 

Ishmael, 19 et seq., 33 et seq,, 35, 51, 
75 et seq., 91, 99, 105, no, 114, 129. 
134. 152. 

Israel, one of the youngest in the 
group to which it belongs, 6; his- 
tory of, reflected in its legends, 89; 
civilisation of Canaan adopted by, 
90, 95. 

Israelitic national epic, 159. 

Jacob, 5, ig et seq., 29, 33, 35, 42 et 
seq., 49 et seq., 57 et seq., 63, 71 et 
seq., 73 et seq., 80 et seq., 88, 91, 94, 
95i 97. 99 et seq., 102, 107 et seq., 113, 
116, 118, 120, 121, 126, 128, 134, 152. 

Jahveh, 92, 95, 104, 117, 127, 

Jahvist and Elohist, 123 et seq., 12S; 
collectors not authors, 124 etseq.; 
relation of, to one another, 133; 
age of the schools, 136 et seq. 

Japhet, 20 et seq., 50 et seq., 61, 91. 

Jared, 96. 

Jehovist, 123 et seq., 143. 

Jeremiah, 85. 

Jeruel, 75 et seq., 31 et seq. 

Jerusalem, 19. 

Jesus, 3. 

Jonah, 3, 119. 

Jordan, twelve stones in the, 31. 

Joseph, 22, 35, 42 et seq., 56 et seq., 



63 et seq., 71 et seq., 79 et seq., 82 
et seq., 95, 99, 107, iia, 117, 120, 134, 
135. 138. 

Joshua, 142. 

Judah, 19 et seq., loi, 113, 

Judges, Book of, 24, 136. 

Kings, Book of, 3. 

Laban, 22, 35, 42, 52 et seq., 59 et seq., 
73. 8oet seq., gi, 96, xii et seq., 116, 
119, 126, 129. 

Lacha-roi, 32 et seq. 

Lagarde, 139. 

Leah, 55, 57 et seq., 121. 

Legends, significance and scope of, 
I et seq.; not lies, 3; criteria for 
history and, 3 et seq.; varieties of, 
13 et seq.; character of races in 22 
et seq.; antiquity of, 23 et seq.; 
classification of, 24 et seq.; setio- 
logIcaI,25; ethnological, 25 etseq.; 
the beginnings of human science, 
25; etymological, 27 et seq.; the 
first rudiments of a philosophy of 
history, 27; ceremonial, 30 et seq.; 
geological, 34; mixed, 34, 35; ori- 
gin of the, 35, 88 et seq.; literary 
form of the, 36 et seq.; tranforma- 
tion of the, 39 et seq.; cycles, 45; 
length of, 46 et seq.; treat men as 
types, 55; laconism of the, 63 et 
seq.; unity and coherence of, 69; 
not pure inventions, 74 ; two styles 
of, ti6; development of the, 88 et 
seq.; migration of, 89 et seq.; reli- 
gious, not Israelistic, 91 ; of wor- 
ship, 91 ; adaptation of, 94 : amal- 
gamation of, 95; history of the oral 
transmission of, 102 et seq.; mono- 
theistic tendency in, 103; ethical 
notions in, in et seq.; criteria of 
the age of , 116 et seq.; tribal, 117; 
collecting of, 123 et seq.: remodel- 
ing of the, 137 et seq.; of the patri- 
archs, period of the formation of, 
137; political references in, 138. 

Levi, 114 et seq. 

Leviathan, 15. 

Lombards, 28. 

Lot, 19,42 et seq., 49, 58 et seq., 74, 

80 et seq., 91, 107, 152; daughters 
of; XI2 et seq. 

Machpelah, 106, 130, 146 et seq. 

Mahanaim, loi, 103. 

Manasseh, 21. 

Manhattan Island, 28. 

Mdrchen, 38, 89. 

Marduk, 41. 

Marriages, mixed, 156. 

Migrations, 21 et seq. 

Milkah, 119. 

Mizraim, 102. 

Moab, 19 et seq., 20, 45. 

Monotheism hostile to myths, 15 et 

Moses, 31, 33, 93, 100, 141, 159, 
Myths, some legends faded, 14 et 

seq.; monotheism hostile to, 15 et 

seq.; significance and origin of, 16 

et seq. 

Nabi, 140. 

Names, origin and meaning of, 27 et 

Narratives, individual, 100 et seq. 
Narrators, methods of the, 58. 
Nephilim, 103. 
New Testament, 3. 
Nimrod, loi ; legend of, 90. 
Nineveh, 138. 
Noah, 7, 9, 13, 44, 48, 58 et seq., 76, 95, 

loi, 108. 

On an, 107. 

Oral tradition, 88. 

Oral transmission of the legends, 

history of the, 102 et seq. 
Origin of the world, legends of the 

Ovid, 93. 

Paradise, 14, 16, 17, 90 et seq., 97, 104. 

Passover, 30. 

Patriarchs, tales of the, 4 ; period of 
the, 6 ; legends of the, 13, 18 et 
seq., 100, 152; represent tribes, 19 
et seq.; pedigrees of the, 98; not 
saints, 88, 113 et seq. ; disguised 
divinities, 119; period of formation 
of legends of, 137. 



Penuel, 31 et seq., 49, 105, 106. 

Perez, 21. 

Personages in the legends, chief and 
subordinate, 53. 

Phaedra, 94. 

Pharaoh, 45, 52 et seq., 114. 

Philemon, 94. 

Phcenician influences, 91. 

Plato, 94. 

Plausibility demanded, 72. 

Poetry in Genesis, 10 et seq. 

Political history, Genesis not, 5. 

Polytheism, 92. 94. 

Potiphar, 45, 53, 94, 134. 

Primitive literary art, simplicity and 
clearness of, 47 et seq. 

Prophets, the relation of the collec- 
tion to the, 139 et seq. 

Prosody, Hebrew, 38. 

Proverbs, Book of, 85. 

Priestly Codex. See Codex. 

Races, progenitors of, 18 ; character 

of in these legends, 22 et seq. 
Rachel, 5, 57 et seq., 99, 112. 
Rebeccah, 21, 46, 49 et seq., 57 et 

seq., 61 et seq., 82, 98, 108, 131 et 

Redaction, Priestly Codex and final, 

145 etseq. 
Religion, light on the history of, 103 ; 

profane motive mingled with, no. 
Reuben, 2i, 50, 93 et seq., loi, 114 et 

Romance, an early Israelitish, 79 et 

seq., 86. 
Ryssel, 157. 

Sabbath, 17, 31, 156. 
Saga. III. 
Sage, the, 2 et seq. 
Salt, pillar of, 34. 
Samaria. 19. 
Samson, 3, no, 120. 
Samuel, Book of, 2, 54. 
Sanctuaries of Israel, 33 ; legends of, 

Sarah, 51 et seq., 6z et seq., 70 et 

seq., 114, 119. 
Selah, 119. 
Seventh day, 31. 
Shechem, 20, 24, 35. 
Shem, 50 et seq., 61, gi. 
Simeon, ig, 114 et seq. 
Sodom, 41 et seq., 60, 90, 96, 107. 
Soul-life, not ignored in legends, 6x; 

interest in, in legends, 85. 
Stories, devices for uniting, 81. 
Story-tellers, professional, 41. 
Stucken, 121. 
Style, detailed, 86. 
Sustained interest, 73. 
Syrian wars, 138. 

Tamar, 21, 61 et seq., 113 et seq., 121, 

Tammuz, 121. 
Tell-el-Amarna, 90. 
Temnah, 50, 

Theocracy, Israelitish, 150. 
Theophany, 104 et seq., 146, 151. 
Thigh, muscle of the, 32. 
Thotmosis, in, 118, 
Thought expressed by actions, 60. 
Tigris, 7. 

Tradition, historical and oral, 4. 
Transmission, fidelity of, 98. 
Tribes, relations of explained, 25 

vanished, 88 ; names of, 118. 

Universal history, beginnings of, 156. 

Variants, value of the, 99 et seq. 
Variations on a given theme, 71. 

Wartburg, 29. 

Wellhausen, 89, 97, 143. i45. i55i i57- 

Wife, patriarch's, 99. 

Wildeboer, 124. 

Winckler, 102, I30, 121. 

Woman, 49- 

Zerah, 21. 
Zipporah, 100, 
Zoar, 29, 34. 96. 

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